It’s hard out there for a small-town cancer doctor. Just ask Wederson M. Claudino, MD, who serves the town of Paducah in far western Kentucky. The nearest cities with significant numbers of hematologist/oncologists are hours away in cities like St. Louis and Nashville, Tenn., too far to go to talk shop over coffee, drinks, or lunch.
“It’s very challenging in a rural or small community,” he said. “I miss the opportunity to elaborate on a case.”
Now Dr. Claudino and hundreds of colleagues have discovered that useful cancer conversations are just a click away.
The @OncBrothers account on Twitter, run by hematologist-oncologist siblings Rahul Gosain, MD, and Rohit Gosain, MD, is serving as an online watering hole. Urban and rural oncologists gather there to discuss new research, compare notes about challenging cases, and get to know each other.
“Following their Twitter feed and the comments and discussions make me feel like part of a bigger community,” Dr. Claudino said. And @OncBrothers is indeed a bustling Internet destination: The account’s 4,300 followers include hundreds who participate in discussions and offer perspective.
For instance, the brothers recently posted a poll asking followers how they’d treat a 55-year-old patient with non–small cell lung cancer. Nearly 250 people responded with their preferred approaches, and the survey thread included comments from oncologists from the City of Hope National Medical Center, the University of Florida, UC San Diego, and elsewhere.
In an interview, the Gosain brothers said the Twitter account is an outgrowth of their phone conversations in recent years, as they trained and settled into their early careers as general medical oncologists in smaller communities.
“After our clinic days, we’ll jump on the phone for 30-45 minutes. We’d talk about patients, how he would treat a case, and what I would do,” Rahul said. “We realized that we were living in a bubble, but we also thought that there are a lot more people in the same boat. They might jump at being able to do the same thing.”
Rahul recently became medical director at the new Wilmot Webster Cancer Center in Rochester, N.Y., after working in Corning, a tiny New York town just north of the Pennsylvania border. His brother Rohit is chair of hematology and oncology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Cancer Center in Jamestown, a small town at the western edge of New York.
“When we initially kicked off the Twitter account in August 2021, we didn’t realize the traction it would get,” Rohit said. “Now we realize that there really is a need for this.”
On an ordinary day, the @OncBrothers account may highlight research presented at a oncology conference, retweet posts by other oncologists about new guidelines or FDA drug approvals, and ask followers to consider how they’d handle a difficult case.
The brothers are especially thrilled when posts spawn discussions that draw voices from leading medical institutions who normally don’t interact much with community oncologists. “You’ll have someone from Sloan Kettering or Dana-Farber saying ‘This is what would do,’ ” Rahul said. “You have the brightest minds pitching in, and we get to learn from them.”
The Gosain brothers were both born in India and immigrated as children to Toronto. They each went to medical school in the Caribbean – for Rohit, it was after a stint as a computer engineer – and they each embraced oncology. “For me, it was about having the right mentors while I was doing my clinical rotations as a medical student and as a resident,” Rahul said. In addition, he said, “this field was moving and is still moving so fast. It really intrigued and excited me and made me want to be at the forefront of it.”
The fast-moving nature of oncology, in fact, was one of the drivers behind the daily conversations between the brothers and the subsequent creation of the @OncBrothers account. “Just last year, in 2021, there were 40 new drugs that were indicated for hematology-oncology,” Rahul said. “To stay on top of that is very, very hard.”
It’s especially difficult to figure out treatment plans when multiple options exist. A 2022 thread on @OncBrothers revealed a wide divergence of opinions about triple therapy in prostate cancer: The 322 respondents to a Twitter poll were sharply divided about the best three-drug combination from these options – docetaxel, daratumumab, abiraterone, androgen deprivation therapy, and alpha-reductase inhibitors.
To make things more challenging, community oncologists often are generalists who treat patients with a wide variety of cancers from prostate and lung to breast and colon. As a result, these oncologists must keep up on developments across the entire cancer field. Rohit highlighted a 2022 thread that polled users about the approach they’d take to another patient with non–small cell lung cancer; 474 people responded. The accompanying discussion emphasized the need for the next-generation sequencing (NGS).
“A significant portion of community oncologists are not even doing NGS testing, which is FDA-approved,” Rohit said. “There’s a huge gap that still exists, and we weren’t even aware of it. We continue to learn from these conversations.”
The brothers contend that there’s a crucial need for education among community oncologists in light of evidence suggesting that some cancer outcomes are worse than those in urban areas.
In fact, Rohit led a 2019 study published in the journal Cancer that found that overall survival in rural patients with neuroendocrine tumorstrended toward worse outcomes than in urban patients.
“There are many factors such as financial burden, lack of education, and rural patients not willing to travel to the city,” Rohit said. “We need to be more creative and ask, ‘How can we equip our medical oncologist in rural settings to continue to do better?’ “
What’s next for the OncBrothers? The Gosains have created a website (www.oncbrothers.com) that highlights their social media work, and they’re exploring options such as podcasts and short videos. “Our goal is to focus on how to continue to keep general medical oncologists up to date, informed, and educated so patients can get the best care close to home,” Rahul said. “We need to do better.”
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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