Print news coverage of cancer: What prevention messages are conveyed when screening is newsworthy?

Katherine Clegg Smith, Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, Ann Carroll Klassen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Background: Americans are generally favorable towards cancer screening, but fatalistic about cancer prevention. News coverage shapes perceptions of cancer control in meaningful ways, but there is little consensus as to the impact of news on our understanding of and engagement in cancer screening practices. Our analysis of cancer screening-related print news coverage during a four month period in 2005 suggests that the newsworthiness of new screening technologies may undermine public confidence in currently available and effective secondary prevention programs, while promoting tests whose effectiveness is debated or not yet established. Methods and results: We conducted a structured text analysis of 517 cancer-related news articles from 15 leading daily newspapers and a subsequent qualitative analysis of the 79 screening news articles. Screening articles were analyzed for content related to criteria for screening effectiveness. Content patterns for each type of screening and cancer were also noted. News coverage consistently conveyed screening as important and highlighted the need to protect and expand access to screening. At the same time, to the extent that story content was framed by the newsworthiness of new tests and technologies this often indirectly called into question effective and established protocols and programs without providing any actionable alternative. Conclusion: This analysis revealed unexpected messages about screening that are potentially problematic for cancer control. The cancer control community should continue efforts to understand and shape news coverage of screening in order to promote balanced and action-oriented content. Research has shown that Americans hold conflicting views regarding cancer-having a favorable opinion of screening while simultaneously feeling fatalistic about prevention. Our analysis of print news stories on cancer screening suggests that the determination of screening's " newsworthiness" is related to newly developed tests and protocols, which may create demand for new tests whose effectiveness is unknown and undermine confidence in established and effective screening programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-441
Number of pages8
JournalCancer Epidemiology
Volume34
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2010

Keywords

  • Fatalism
  • News media
  • Qualitative text analysis
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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