Social listening and the early detection of colorectal cancer

Technology, patient advocacy, and social media merge to highlight the importance of early detection during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Social listening

In recent years, colorectal cancer, a disease traditionally associated with an older demographic, has seen an alarming increase in younger adults. This shift has prompted a reevaluation of approaches to early detection, emphasizing the growing role of technology and social media in bridging the gap between awareness and action.

Rising trends and a shift in awareness

A 2023 report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed that 20% of colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2019 were reported in patients under the age of 55 – almost double the rate from 1995. The increasing number of cases underscores a pressing need for innovation in detection methods and poses a new and significant challenge to diagnostic frameworks which have historically focused on older adults.

The emergence of social media platforms like TikTok as educational tools signals a shift in how health information is shared among younger populations. Through the power of viral content, personal stories, and educational posts, these platforms have become instrumental in highlighting symptoms of colorectal cancer, encouraging early consultations with healthcare providers.

Digital platforms and screening strategies for younger adults

The role of social media in health education extends beyond mere awareness. It fosters a culture of informed dialogue and self-advocacy among younger adults. By sharing personal experiences and insights, these platforms empower individuals with the knowledge and confidence to effectively communicate important messages to their peers. This empowerment is key to demystifying the sometimes embarrassing symptoms of colorectal cancer (such as changes in bowel habits and bloody stools) while fostering proactive conversations with healthcare providers which can lead to more timely and informed interventions.

The increase in colorectal cancer cases among younger adults also highlights the need for a shift in screening and symptom recognition strategies. Traditional approaches have often overlooked symptoms in younger adults, attributing them to benign issues such as diet, lifestyle, or stress. This oversight can delay the consideration of colorectal cancer as a potential diagnosis, making the role of technology and digital platforms even more critical for early detection and prompt action.

Integrating technology and digital awareness

Some innovative organizations, including IMO, are using social listening on platforms like Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube, to better understand patient journeys and sentiments related to a host of topics such as disease outbreaks, vaccine hesitancy, and specific drug and treatment perceptions.

IMO’s client-centric approach, which includes social listening and the integration of advanced AI with millions of real-world user-generated posts, highlights the potential of natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, and data visualization to inform public health responses and disease-specific education. By mining and analyzing social media discussions, IMO is helping to amplify patient voices and identify concerns and misinformation that may undermine health outcomes if left unaddressed.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month provides an excellent example of how combining traditional education with innovative technology can boost patient advocacy, disease recognition, and promote early cancer detection efforts, especially in young adults. This collaborative approach between healthcare providers, patient advocates, and technology innovators can also serve as a model for other awareness campaigns in the months and years ahead.

For more information on Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, click here.

To learn about IMO’s public health sentiment and social media listening research, click here.

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