Coverage and quality of oral cancer information in the popular press: 1987-98

J Public Health Dent. 1998 Summer;58(3):241-7.


Objectives: National data show a lack of knowledge and misinformation about oral cancer and its early detection among the general public. A major source of health information is the popular press. For that reason this study reviewed coverage and quality of news items on the topic of oral cancer in the popular press. In addition, the number and types of tobacco advertisements in women and men's magazines were recorded for a one-year period.

Methods: Articles from magazines and newspapers were retrieved from the Magazine Index (1987 to April 1998), Newspaper Abstract (1989 to April 1998) and the Health & Wellness (1987 to April 1998) databases. The articles were analyzed both for adequacy of content and information.

Results: A total of 50 articles and news items including oral cancer were identified and analyzed, 18 from newspapers and 32 from magazines. Ninety-four percent of the articles mentioned at least one risk factor for oral cancer. More than half of the articles (56%) identified spit tobacco (chewing tobacco or snuff) as the major risk factor for oral cancer, while far fewer mentioned either cigarettes (32%) or cigars (12%). Over 50 percent of the articles did not mention warning signs for oral cancers. Fourteen percent suggested clinical oral cancer examinations by a health professional; only 8 percent advised the use of self-examination. A total of 417 tobacco advertisements (482 pages) were found among 22 magazines for the one-year period. They included 410 cigarette ads, seven cigar ads, and no spit tobacco ads.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the lack of coverage about oral cancer in the popular press in the past decade and provides a partial explanation of the public's lack of knowledge and misinformation about oral cancers.

MeSH terms

  • Advertising
  • Databases as Topic
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Plants, Toxic
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Examination
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Tobacco Industry
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States