Making headlines: an analysis of US government-funded cancer research mentioned in online media

BMJ Open. 2019 Feb 19;9(2):e025783. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025783.


Objective: To characterise how online media coverage of journal articles on cancer funded by the US government varies by cancer type and stage of the cancer control continuum and to compare the disease prevalence rates with the amount of funded research published for each cancer type and with the amount of media attention each receives.

Design: A cross-sectional study.

Setting: The United States.

Participants: The subject of analysis was 11 436 journal articles on cancer funded by the US government published in 2016. These articles were identified via PubMed and characterised as receiving online media attention based on data provided by Altmetric.

Results: 16.8% (n=1925) of articles published on US government-funded research were covered in the media. Published journal articles addressed all common cancers. Frequency of journal articles differed substantially across the common cancers, with breast cancer (n=1284), lung cancer (n=630) and prostate cancer (n=586) being the subject of the most journal articles. Roughly one-fifth to one-fourth of journal articles within each cancer category received online media attention. Media mentions were disproportionate to actual burden of each cancer type (ie, incidence and mortality), with breast cancer articles receiving the most media mentions. Scientific articles also covered the stages of the cancer continuum to varying degrees. Across the 13 most common cancer types, 4.4% (n=206) of articles focused on prevention and control, 11.7% (n=550) on diagnosis and 10.7% (n=502) on therapy.

Conclusions: Findings revealed a mismatch between prevalent cancers and cancers highlighted in online media. Further, journal articles on cancer control and prevention received less media attention than other cancer continuum stages. Media mentions were not proportional to actual public cancer burden nor volume of scientific publications in each cancer category. Results highlight a need for continued research on the role of media, especially online media, in research dissemination.

Keywords: cancer; grant funding; information technology; media; medical journalism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics*
  • Biomedical Research / economics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Financing, Government*
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Journal Impact Factor*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • United States