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PROFILES IN ONCOLOGY SOCIAL MEDIA: Naoto T. Ueno, MD, PhD — @teamoncology

Butcher, Lola

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000386606.03216.a4
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Professor of Medicine, Department of Breast Medical Oncology, Breast Cancer Translational Research Laboratory, Department of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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Twitter Description:

Medical Oncologist, Cancer Survivor, Professor, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Food, Japan, Perfume

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Twitter Name:


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Number of Tweets:

20,000 (as of early July)

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“I am fairly technology-savvy, and I check out most of the social networking platforms that are available. Twitter was an experiment I started about a year ago. I tweet a lot compared with most oncologists in the United States. I probably tweet the most of any of them, actually.

“I tweet for two populations—Japanese and people in the US. I notice that most people in the US do not pay attention to Twitter content in the evening, whereas in Japan, blog and Internet activity skyrockets in the late evening.

So I have a guideline to what I do: I tweet from 6 pm to 8 am in Japanese; and from 11 am to about 6 pm, I tweet only in English. 8 am to 11 am is tricky because people in Japan are awake—they stay up very late for Twitter activity—so I have to communicate in both languages. (There is a 14-hour time difference between Japan and Houston during the summer.)”

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Twitter Tactics:

“There is a strategy in my tweeting, which is that I don't tweet only about cancer. I like to eat, so I pay attention to food—not just the menu, but sometimes I tweet about ingredients and the region the food is from. I like techno-music, and I have a certain group I like; those tweets are mostly in Japanese. Every time I travel, if I see anything interesting, I will tweet about it.



“I tweet because I like to disseminate accurate information to others. So I pay a lot of attention to content that is relevant. If I say I ate spaghetti, no one is interested to hear that I ate spaghetti. People want to know what kind of spaghetti. What does it taste like? Where did I eat that spaghetti? And where can they get that same kind of spaghetti?

“I use hashtags (see box on next page). In this way, I pull an audience that has nothing to do with cancer, but then when I tweet about cancer, which is about 40% of the content, they will pay attention to it. Even though they may not follow me directly, they still read my information about cancer. Twitter is fantastic in the way that you can disseminate information to people who don't care about cancer.”

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Cancer Tweets:

“I do tweet about basic science and clinical oncology, but I talk more about patient empowerment issues—about standard of care, evidence-based medicine, and the latest information, comparing it with the standard of care. And if information (posted on Twitter or in any other format) is absolutely wrong, I will criticize it. These are the four topics I tweet about related to cancer.

“Patient empowerment is probably the most important thing—how do you communicate with health care providers, why it's important to communicate with physicians, what does it take to communicate with health care providers, what does it mean to be a cancer survivor.

“I myself am a cancer survivor, so I can see the point of view of a patient and of a physician. I'm also a basic scientist and a clinician, so I can really digest a lot of what people say on Twitter, and then I re-tweet with my own comments. I think that's one of the reasons people follow me.

“The other thing I talk about is career development for health care providers and graduate students in the field of cancer. I have a lot of graduate students and medical students who follow me and some have asked for advice on how to develop their career. On a couple of occasions, I have done a theme week on Twitter about how to create a strong mission and vision for career development.”

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Twitter Time:

“I may spend 30 to 40 minutes a day tweeting, but I don't sit down and spend 30 or 40 minutes at a time. I type real fast and I can read fast, and I can digest things fairly fast. So, every time I see something, if it's interesting, I will tweet. And when I find information on Twitter that is worth spreading, I will retweet with my comments. Also, if I attend a good seminar which is in the public domain, just to keep my memory going on, I tweet. Rather than taking notes, I tweet.”

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Power of the Tweet:

“This was not in the US, but there was some information about breast cancer screening that was completely wrong, based on the known evidence. So I criticized it, and my information was quickly picked up by the media. And this big organization—I can't give you the details because the situation is ongoing—ended up withdrawing their screening guidelines until they can be changed.” (see box on previous page)

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Who He Reads:

“I follow only about 350 people. It's not that I am not interested in all the other people, but I want to really go through the whole timeline (of tweets by each person I follow) to get a sense of what's going on with my Twitter friends. So I am careful about who I pick to follow.

“I have a lot of hashtags prescheduled to search, so I get a lot of information. I follow hash tags by cancers and I have my own hash tags that I created. I quickly go through them every day. I have 20 in front of me now.”

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Why “Team Oncology”?

“I have a personal blog about patient empowerment, but it's in Japanese. I've been blogging probably three or four years. How it started is that I am the chair of the sister institution relationship between Tokyo Oncology Consortium and MD Anderson. Under this relationship, we have an educational program in Japan called Japan TeamOncology Program. We have a website where we promote multidisciplinary cancer care in Japan. It's quite a good site, but strictly Japanese.”

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Relationship Builder:

“I have many friends through Twitter and blogging who I have not physically met, including a colleague (@propacil) with whom I have written an opinion article in which we compare US and Japanese health care. We are planning to submit it to The New York Times or The Journal of the American Medical Association.”

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Tweeting Tools/Apps:

“I use Tweetie, and on my iPhone, I use Twittelator Pro. I use these fairly sophisticated software applications so that I can tweet faster and organize myself.”

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Twitter Tips:

“You don't have to tweet to use Twitter. It's a very good way to collect information, such as the latest research study. All the major journals, grant agencies, and news agencies tweet, and they usually tweet the most important paper and the latest information.

“So if you're not quite sure what this is about, the first thing to do is use Twitter as a search engine. Then find people who are interesting to follow. I highly recommend not just looking for famous people but finding those who really provide information that you need. The bottom line is to pick the content that is of interest to you.”

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The Little Blue Bird Flaps Its Wings

When Dr. Ueno used Twitter to criticize a breast cancer screening campaign in Japan, people took notice.

An article in The Daily Yomiuri ( reports on how a screening campaign that targeted women in their 20s and 30s is getting a “rethink.”

The campaign, which was not based on scientific evidence, also received coverage by a newspaper in Asahi.

“It was terribly wrong information that was out there,” Dr. Ueno said. “This is the impact of Twitter.”

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Twitter Hashtag How-to

Twitter users who share an interest in a given topic find one another by using hashtags.

A hashtag is a word (or group of words mashed together) preceded by a hash symbol (#). In each tweet about that topic, the author inserts the hashtag so that anyone who searches for that hashtag can read the tweet.

While some hashtag names are obscure to outsiders, many are intuitive, such as #cancer, #breastcancer, #oncology, and #aacr. Even if you do not have a Twitter account, go to and search on #prostatecancer, for example, to find dozens of recent tweets on that topic.

Not all Twitter authors use hashtags, so the list of tweets you find on the #prostatecancer search will not include all the information about that topic being shared on Twitter. However, a good way to get started using Twitter is to sign up for an account and search for hashtags of interest. The tweets you find will help identify tweeters that you might like to follow.



Hashtags are often used to create a community among people who are attending an event or sharing an experience. For example, check out #ASCO10 to find tweets by hundreds of people who micro-blogged their way through this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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