Making sense of cancer news coverage trends: a comparison of three comprehensive content analyses

J Health Commun. 2010 Mar;15(2):136-51. doi: 10.1080/10810730903528025.


Cancer stories (N = 5,327) in the top 50 U.S. newspapers were analyzed by a team of four coders and the results were compared with the earliest analyses of this type (from 1977 and 1980). Using cancer incidence rates as a comparison, three cancers were found to be consistently underreported (male reproductive, lymphatic/Hodgkin's, and thyroid) and four cancers were found to be consistently overreported (breast, blood/Leukemia, pancreatic, and bone/muscle). In addition, cancer news coverage consistently has focused on treatment rather than on other aspects of the cancer continuum (e.g., prevention), portrayed lifestyle choices (e.g., diet, smoking) as the most common cancer risk factor, and rarely reported incidence or mortality data. Finally, the data were compatible with the idea that personalization bias (e.g., celebrity profiles, event coverage) may explain some news coverage distortions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Journalism, Medical*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Newspapers as Topic / trends*
  • Publication Bias
  • Statistics as Topic
  • United States / epidemiology