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Media May Paint Overly Optimistic Picture of Cancer

Articles often refer to survival, aggressive treatments, less often to death, treatment failure

MONDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- Coverage of cancer care in the print media may create an overly optimistic view of treatments and outcomes by focusing more often on aggressive treatments and survival than treatment failures and death, according to research published online March 16 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Jessica Fishman, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues analyzed data from 436 articles focused on cancer that were published in five national magazines and eight large newspapers from 2005 to 2007. Researchers assessed the articles for content related to cancer survival, mortality, aggressive treatment, treatment failure, adverse treatment events, and end-of-life palliative or hospice care.

Of the articles analyzed, the researchers found that 32.1 percent focused on survival, compared to 7.6 percent that focused on death and dying. Only 13.1 percent of the articles discussed the possibility that aggressive treatments can fail, and only 30 percent reported that aggressive treatments can lead to adverse events. Most articles (57.1 percent) covered aggressive treatments exclusively, but very few exclusively discussed end-of-life palliative or hospice care (0.5 percent).

"How often should the news media discuss treatment failure, adverse events, end-of-life care, and death and dying? The media routinely report about aggressive treatment and survival presumably because cancer news coverage is relevant to a large portion of the population, and, for the same reason, similar attention should be devoted to the alternatives," the authors conclude.

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