Media coverage of women's health issues: Is there a bias in the reporting of an association between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer?

M. K. Whiteman, Y. Cui, J. A. Flaws, P. Langenberg, T. L. Bush

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Media coverage of scientific research plays a major role in shaping public opinion and influencing medical practice. When an association is controversial, such as with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer, it is important that a balanced picture of the scientific literature be reported. The objective of this study was to assess whether scientific publications that do and do not support an HRT/breast cancer association were cited in the media in proportions similar to those with which they appear in the scientific literature. Scientific publications reporting on the HRT/breast cancer association published from January 1, 1995, to June 30, 2000, were identified through a systematic Medline search. Media reports from newspapers, magazines, television, and radio that reported on HRT and breast cancer were retrieved from an online database. Investigators independently recorded characteristics of the scientific publications and media reports. A total of 32 scientific publications were identified: 20 (62.5%) concluded there was an increased risk of breast cancer associated with HRT (positive publications), and 12 (37.5%) concluded there was no evidence for an association (null publications). Nearly half (47%) of the scientific publications were not cited by the media. There were 203 media citations of scientific publications: 82% were of positive publications and 18% were of null publications, representing a significant excess of citations of positive publications (p <0.01). Media coverage of this controversial issue is based on a limited sample of the scientific publications. Moreover, the excess of media citations for positive scientific publications suggests a bias against null scientific publications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-577
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Women's Health and Gender-Based Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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