Dartmouth/VA researchers examine news coverage of breast cancer prevention

Hanover, NH Dartmouth researchers report how major US media covered the potential benefits and harms of two breast cancer preventive strategies and, in doing so, raise questions about how well the press covers medical issues in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), June 19.

Lisa Schwartz, MD, and Steven Woloshin, MD, of Dartmouth Medical School's Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences, the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group, White River Junction, Vermont and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center compared how the major US news media covered the potential benefits and harms of mammography versus the prescription drug tamoxifen (trade name Nolvadex) used for the primary prevention of breast cancer. They performed a content analysis of major US news media (top 10 circulation newspapers) and three major television to look at the two weeks of media coverage following three events: National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus panel not recommending screening mammography for women in their forties, the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) reversal of the panel (advocating mammography) and the dissemination of the results of the randomized trial of tamoxifen for primary prevention.

They found differences in how the media reported on these issues. "Most news stories favored routine use of screening mammography and urged caution about using tamoxifen. Almost all noted the potential harms of each preventive strategy; however, the negative aspects of tamoxifen received greater emphasis. Whereas taking tamoxifen was presented as a difficult decision, having a mammogram was presented as something a woman ought to do," the physicians say. The NIH consensus panel stories were generally enthusiastic about mammography. Most left the reader with the impression that women in their forties should be screened and, in many cases, there was a sense of anger at the panel for the failure to recommend mammography. The NCI reversal stories were almost universally su

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Dartmouth Medical School

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