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Is Cancer Represented Accurately in Media?

Because the media typically mediates and amplifies how individuals comprehend and act on information, the media has a significant impact on the public's understanding and awareness of health issues, including cancer risk. Indeed, for those who do not seek 'formal' health information from other sources, the media is likely to be an important information source. The media's agenda-setting function has long been recognized, and the media shapes public perceptions and health behaviours by deciding what news to publish and how to tell it.

"The press may not be successful in persuading people what to think much of the time," Cohen remarked in the 1960s, "but it is astoundingly good in telling its readers what to think about." While some media coverage will surely report on formal awareness initiatives that have been approved by individuals with a specific public health remit, much of what occurs in the media is ad hoc and reflects current events and topics. Such coverage has the potential to be quite effective. Individuals' understandings of cancer occurrence, risk, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis are aided by the media, which may provide 'cues to action.'


For example, media accounts of celebrities' cancer experiences are well-known catalysts for public behaviour: interest in cancer and early detection increased sharply following President Ronald Reagan's diagnosis of colon cancer in 1985; bookings for mammography increased dramatically in the months following Kylie Minogue's diagnosis of breast cancer in 2005, and the 'Jade Goody Effect' was shown to influence cervical screening uptake.


Similarly, the media has been chastised for omitting 'mobilizing' information that, in theory, would allow readers to change their minds. The 'Kylie Effect,' which encouraged women to assume that breast cancer risk was highest in those under 70, and hence suggested to older women that their age was associated with reduced risk, is of particular importance here.


Regardless of celebrity coverage, the media framing literature shows that cancer portrayals are typically negative, inciting dread and anxiety, and frequently use military and sporting metaphors. Previous studies of cancer representation in the media have contrasted the frequency of news coverage of individual cancer sites with their prevalence in the population, consistently showing that breast cancer is overrepresented and colorectal cancer is underrepresented.


Since the dawn of time, people have been disseminating false health information. According to Dr. Chou, the internet and social media have made it far simpler to disseminate and propagate health misinformation.

Indeed, a recent study found that one out of every three of the most popular pieces on social media about the four most frequent malignancies in 2018 and 2019 had false, inaccurate, or misleading information. According to Skyler Johnson, M.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, who led the current study, the majority of the cancer misinformation was potentially hazardous, such as pushing unproven treatments as alternatives to ones that have been found to be effective in rigorous studies.


People were also more likely to engage with misinformation than with true information, according to Dr. Johnson's research. A 2019 research of prostate cancer information on YouTube came to similar outcomes.


According to Stacy Loeb, M.D., M.Sc., of the NYU School of Medicine, who conducted the study, "a large fraction of the content on YouTube was possibly biassed and/or misinformative," and those films had more views and thumbs-ups than videos with factual information.


The media has a critical influence in shaping popular perceptions about cancer. Cancer coverage in the media can send essential signals to the general public, such as that cancer is not always fatal, that early detection saves lives, that access to the best treatment improves results, and that life does not stop just because you have cancer. High-quality cancer coverage can also help to increase awareness about measures to close gaps and eliminate injustices, as well as portray people's experiences with the disease in a more realistic perspective.

Unfortunately, cancer is regularly covered in poor quality. By naively promoting "miracle cures," this style of reporting can

reinforce the misconception that cancer is an automatic death sentence, create fear and stigma, and disseminate false hope. Furthermore, stories about 'victims' or 'tragic heroes' deprive readers of a realistic understanding of the disease. This type of reporting frequently overlooks concerns regarding what is required to improve the patient and family experience. As a result, the general public continues to be unaware of cancer, negative attitudes are reinforced, and poor health-care services go unaddressed.

 

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