Cancer in the mass print media: fear, uncertainty and the medical model

Soc Sci Med. 2006 May;62(10):2591-600. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.11.021. Epub 2006 Jan 23.


Cancer is increasing in incidence and prevalence in North America and around the world. The mass print media play an important role in information provision about prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this disease, as well as informing health policy and personal experience. This paper reports on a content analysis of the portrayal of cancer in the highest circulating magazines available in Canada and published in Canada or the USA in 1991, 1996, 2001. It includes both manifest and latent analysis of the framing and content of cancer stories. Manifest analysis documented the dominance of the medical as compared to the lifestyle and political economy frames and the predominance of articles on breast as compared to other cancers. Latent themes included: an emphasis on fear of cancer in that: (1) cancer and fear are frequently conflated; cancer is said to grow outside of awareness; cancer is portrayed as (almost) inevitable; cancer is associated with normal experiences; early detection is associated with diagnosis; and scary statistics are emphasized; (2) contradictions and confusion exist within and between articles; and (3) metaphors of war and battle are used frequently. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of the linking of fear with cancer in the context of medicine as the solution.

MeSH terms

  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Mass Media*
  • Neoplasms*
  • Ontario
  • Uncertainty*