Cancer and Social Media: A Comparison of Traffic about Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, and Other Reproductive Cancers on Twitter and Instagram

J Health Commun. 2018;23(2):181-189. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2017.1421730. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


Social media are often heralded as offering cancer campaigns new opportunities to reach the public. However, these campaigns may not be equally successful, depending on the nature of the campaign itself, the type of cancer being addressed, and the social media platform being examined. This study is the first to compare social media activity on Twitter and Instagram across three time periods: #WorldCancerDay in February, the annual month-long campaigns of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) in October and Movember in November, and during the full year outside of these campaigns. Our results suggest that women's reproductive cancers - especially breast cancer - tend to outperform men's reproductive cancer - especially prostate cancer - across campaigns and social media platforms. Twitter overall generates substantially more activity than Instagram for both cancer campaigns, suggesting Instagram may be an untapped resource. However, the messaging for both campaigns tends to focus on awareness and support rather than on concrete actions and behaviors. We suggest health communication efforts need to focus on effective messaging and building engaged communities for cancer communication across social media platforms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms
  • Prostatic Neoplasms
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Testicular Neoplasms
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms
  • Uterine Neoplasms