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Profiles in Oncology Social Media: Robert A. Wascher, MD

Butcher, Lola

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000419317.81847.79

Six years ago, surgical oncologist Robert A. Wascher, MD, started a blog to help the general public learn about and understand important breaking health research findings.

Long interested in disease prevention, and particularly cancer prevention, Wascher was troubled to see that patients often accept health information at face value, not recognizing that the information is often unsupported by reliable scientific or clinical research. His website's goal, therefore, is to present new health research findings to a global audience of health-conscious readers.

“Unlike a lot of other sites that present watered-down or over-simplified or obviously biased reviews, I give visitors to Weekly Health Update an objective, critical review of important new health-related research findings,” he said in an interview.

Recent post titles, for example, include:

  • “Obesity, Diet, Exercise, Estrogen, Testosterone and Breast Cancer Risk”;
  • “Even Modest Levels of Physical Activity Decrease Breast Cancer Risk”; and
  • “Increasing Number of CT and PET Scans Raise Cancer Risk Concerns.”

Some of his earlier blog posts helped form the foundation for A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, his 2010 evidence-based cancer prevention book for the lay public.



“Conceptually, the book was in the back of my head before I started the blog, but this project gathered more momentum when I began updating my website with a new research study on a weekly basis,” he explained. “Over time, I developed an online archive of high-level research studies that were relevant to the issues that I wanted to discuss in the book. So the blog certainly helped me with organizing and writing the book.”

Wascher is a surgical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in the Phoenix area and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of California, Irvine.

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How do your readers find you?

“How to optimize your website from a search engine optimization, or “SEO,” point of view is the subject of endless debate among bloggers. There are many recommendations out there about how to reach higher levels of visibility on Internet search engines. In my case, frankly, I don't do much of anything in the way of SEO. I believe that if you put out high-quality, consistent, and objective information that is of interest to a large number of people, over time you will attract visitors to your website, people will spread the news, and eventually you'll be successful.

“In 2011, we served 1.3 million pages of information to a global audience, and we will easily exceed this volume in 2012. I also have an email link on my website, and so I have some sense of the global reach of my audience. It's fascinating to get emails from people in Pakistan, Malaysia, India, and many other faraway places around the world, in addition to the United States.

“I don't have any SEO gurus working for me, and I don't advertise online or anywhere else. If people find your content interesting and relevant, they will come back to your site as well as share its content with others online.”

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You serve as a medical expert and consultant for ShareCare— —a social media Q&A platform, and as a consultant for the online-information component of LIVESTRONG— —the organization founded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. What does your participation involve?

“ShareCare is a relatively new site that has assembled an online repository of answers to health-related questions. The primary focus is to inspire questions from the public and to offer answers by highly vetted medical experts, so as to provide a higher and more consistent level of medical advice than many other online public health forums offer.”

“Just as with LIVESTRONG, once you have gone through ShareCare's vetting process and your credentials are verified, there are multiple ways for oncologists and other physicians to participate. For example, I have the option of responding to the existing bank of questions on the ShareCare website, or I can submit new questions, and answers to those questions, if I think this will be helpful to ShareCare's audience.

“I also contribute content to ShareCare from my own site when one of my blog posts is particularly relevant to their audience. ShareCare's editors will also reach out to me if there is an urgent need for my expert commentary on a breaking public health issue. For example, after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced its new recommendations against routine PSA screening for prostate cancer, I was contacted by ShareCare for my response.

“I have also supplied content to LIVESTRONG, which, like ShareCare, requires all of its medical experts to be thoroughly vetted in terms of their training, expertise, and professional accomplishments.”

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How do you decide which patient-focused social media venues you will participate in?

“I am very careful about which sites I'm willing to get involved with these days. I don't have a lot of free time, so all collaborations or affiliations come at the cost of my own personal time, effort, and energy. I also have a very high standard of quality that I want to maintain, because everything I do online reflects back on my own website, on my work as an author and as a surgeon-oncologist, on my employer, and on me personally.”

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What advice can you share with oncologists who want to start using social media to help educate patients?

“Be careful and thoughtful if you are interested in dipping your toe into the social media ocean. In my own case, I operate from the assumption that anything that I put out there can be looked at by anybody, and that includes my patients, my colleagues, my employer, government regulatory agencies—anybody. And I think that this critically important factor is very easy to forget.

“You also have to be very careful about patient privacy issues, and not cross that line between supplying general health information, which is what I try to do, versus implying or suggesting that you are giving specific medical advice to people with whom you have no therapeutic relationship.

“If you feel you have something important to contribute and want to develop an online presence, then I think that, first of all, you should look at what other already successful people are doing and use that as a model.

“You must also be prepared to invest quite a lot of time with social media if you want to do it well and reach a wide audience, as you're not likely to be successful otherwise.”

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How do you use other popular social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn?

“Social media offers me a direct means of communicating to a global audience about issues that are of critical importance to public health, and that are perhaps not well covered by other media outlets. So this overarching perspective on social media guides what I do and don't do.

“For example, I was on Facebook for several years, but I'm not any more. It's not that I don't like Facebook; I just found that it consumed a huge amount of my time, and I wasn't really accomplishing my social media goals on this platform. So I pulled out of Facebook earlier this year.

“I view LinkedIn primarily as an 'electronic business card service,' right now, although there are certainly useful opportunities to network with other professionals. However, there are some networking-related constraints inherent to LinkedIn, and this platform does not allow me to easily reach a broad public audience.”

Twitter Bio: Cancer Surgeon and cancer prevention, professor, author of A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, Editor of Weekly Health Update (

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#9 in a Continuing Series

Previous Oncology Social Media Profiles can be found in this Collection on the OT website: MediaProfiles

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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