Social media and colorectal cancer: A systematic review of available resources

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 23;12(8):e0183031. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183031. eCollection 2017.


Aim: Social media (SM) can provide information and medical knowledge to patients. Our aim was to review the literature and web-based content on SM that is used by Colorectal Cancer (CRC) patients, as well as surgeons' interaction with SM.

Method: Studies published between 2006 and 2016 were assessed. We also assessed the impact of several hashtags on Twitter with a freeware (Symplur).

Results: Nine studies were included assessing Twitter (78%), Forums/Cancer-survivor networks (33%), and Facebook (22%). Aims included use of SM by CRC patients (67%), cancer-specific usage of SM with different types of cancer (44%), content credibility (33%), and influence in CRC awareness (33%). Prevention was the most common information that CRC patients looked for, followed by treatment side-effects. Only 2% of CRC SM users are doctors. SM use by colorectal consultants was suboptimal. Only 38% of surgeons had a LinkedIn account (most with less than 50 connections), and 3% used Twitter. A steep increase of tweets was observed for searched Hashtags over time, which was more marked for #ColonCancer (+67%vs+38%, #Coloncancer vs #RectalCancer). Participants engaged with colon cancer increased by 85%, whereas rectal cancer ones increased by 29%. The hashtag '#RectalCancer' was mostly tweeted by colorectal surgeons. The official twitter account of American Society of Colorectal Surgeons (@fascrs_updates) was the most active account.

Conclusion: CRC patients and relatives are increasingly engaging with SM. CRC surgeons' participation is poor, but we confirm a trend toward a greater involvement. Most SM lack of authoritative validation and the quality of shared content still is largely anecdotic and not scientifically evidenced-based. However, SM may offer several advantages over conventional information sharing sources for CRC patients and surgeons, and create connections with mutual enrichment.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Social Media*

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.