Newspapers are filled with stories on breast cancer. Unfortunately, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) say that the coverage of breast cancer puts more focus on treatments rather than on prevention - a trend that could in the long run prove risky for women.
By analysing the national media's coverage of the disease, MSU researchers discovered that over a two-year period, 31 percent of the 231 stories that appeared in some of the country's top newspapers, magazines and television networks focused on treatment, and only 18 percent looked at prevention.
"What we're concerned about is people will think, 'well, the scientists are going to come up with a cure, so we don't need to worry about prevention. I think this emphasis on treatment, especially so-called breakthroughs, may lead to complacency,'" said Charles Atkin, one of the authors of the study and a University Distinguished Professor of communication at MSU.
In the one-year period between 2003 and 2004, the researchers examined breast-cancer coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News.
It was found a two to one margin between news stories focussing on narratives - personal stories of cancer patients and those concerned with data and statistics, and Atkin said that this won't be beneficial for cancer prevention even if they seem to be compelling.
"The biggest single type of story was about breast cancer treatment, and narratives lend themselves much better to that kind of story. Stories about prevention, about people exercising and eating right, just don't make great copy," he said.
Though a number of factors leading to breast cancer are difficult to avert, but still there are many steps people can take to reduce their risk of breast, or any other type of cancer, including diet, exercise and avoidance of certain substances in the environment that are known to contribute to breast cancer, that includes contaminants in the air, ground or items we come in contact with; pharmaceuticals; and lifestyle practices..
"The media really underrepresent the risks involving lifestyle and the prevention activities people can make," said Atkin.
The media also missed out on stories about the role parents can play in helping their children prevent breast cancer.
"Advice to parents on how they should be raising their daughters in terms of diet and exercise was completely ignored. There were no stories at all," said Sandi Smith, study co-author.
Atkin said that media awareness of promoting cancer-prevention techniques is quite important.
"The media in general have a large influence on what women believe is risky and what they learn about how to prevent breast cancer. Some ongoing studies are finding that the media, along with friends and family members, are more influential than even physicians," he said.
The research paper, titled "A Comprehensive Analysis of Breast Cancer News Coverage in Leading Media Outlets Focusing on Environmental Risks and Prevention," is published in the latest edition of the Journal of Health Communication.