Is Cancer Coverage Too Optimistic?

Newspaper and magazine stories related to cancer are biased towards optimism, according to a research study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study, which was reported in the March 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, involved the review of 436 cancer-related stories that were published in national magazines and large-scale newspapers from 2005 to 2007 (these articles were randomly selected from a larger pool of 2,228 articles).

Based on these sample articles, it was found that pronounced focus was given to aggressive cancer treatments and overall cancer survival. Subjects that were found to be under-reported include cancer death, failure of treatments, adverse affects of treatments and end-of-life palliative care.

Specifically, it was concluded that 32 percent of articles reviewed focused on the topic of cancer survival, while only 7.8 percent focused on the topic of death and dying. Additionally, only 13 percent of all articles reviewed reported that “aggressive cancer treatments can fail.”

As suggested by Jessica Fishman, a lead author of the paper, “It is surprising that few articles discuss death and dying considering that half of all patients diagnosed as having cancer will not survive,” Fishman adds, “The findings are also surprising given that scientists, media critics and the lay public repeatedly criticize the news for focusing on death.”

Of the articles, 35 percent were found to deal with the topic of breast cancer. Another 15 percent of the articles dealt with the specialized topic of prostate cancer. Roughly 20 percent of all articles tackled cancer from a general perspective, with no specific type of cancer chosen for focus.