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15 Oct 2011

Penn study: downsides of cancer care rarely seen in black media

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October 15, 2011 Category: Health Posted by:

Blacks in the United States who rely on African American news publications for health information are about three times less likely to learn about important aspects of cancer care than they would be if they turned to mainstream media for the same information.


A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently completed an analysis of over 600 news stories about cancer that appeared in mainstream publications (e.g., The Philadelphia Inquirer, People Magazine) and African American news media (e.g., The Philadelphia Tribune, Ebony). Their conclusions revealed a startling disparity when looking for news about:


  • The potential adverse events of cancer care – nearly 32 percent of cancer-related stories in mainstream media addressed this subject, as compared with only 13.6 percent of the stories in African American news media.
  • Coverage of cancer treatment failure – more than 14 percent of the cancer-related stories covered in mainstream media failure of cancer treatment, as compared with 4.2 percent of the stories in African American news media. Death and dying from cancer – again, nearly 12 percent of the mainstream media stories addressed this topic, while less than 4 percent of the stories in African American media covered the same topic.
  • End of life care (for example, palliative or hospice care) – less than two percent of the stories in mainstream media addressed this subject, while the researchers did not find a single story about this subject in African American media. The researchers noted that this disparity is potentially troublesome, given that prior studies about health news consumption indicate that upwards of 90 percent of Black Americans turn to African American media for health news. The study also notes that news coverage of aggressive cancer treatments may give the public unrealistically optimistic hope that these treatments actually work, when in reality half of all cancer patients do not survive, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. Overall, both the mainstream media and African American media may be providing misleading information.


This study was conducted by the team of Jessica M. Fishman, Ph.D.; Thomas Ten Have, Ph.D.; and David Casarett, MD, MA. Dr. Fishman is affiliated with the Annenberg School for Communication and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Drs. Ten Have and Casarett are affiliated with Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. The research was funded by the Annenberg School for Communication’s Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research and the American Cancer Society.

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