“Very few news reports about cancer discuss death and dying, and even those that do generally do not mention palliative and hospice care,” the researchers wrote.
Palliative care is medical care designed to reduce suffering and improve quality of life but not to cure a disease. It is a major component of care for terminal or hard-to-cure cancers.
The researchers reviewed 436 articles that had appeared in the magazines Newsweek, Parade, People, Redbook and Time, as well as eight daily newspapers in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. They found that while 32.1 percent of the articles focused on successful treatment of at least one patient, only 7.6 percent covered patients who died or were expected to. Only 2.2 percent addressed both positive and negative outcomes.
Of 216 people mentioned by name in the articles reviewed, 78.7 percent were survivors and only 21.3 percent died. Yet 50 percent of U.S. residents diagnosed with cancer do not survive the disease.
In addition, the researchers found that although many cancer treatments can have serious and even dangerous side effects, only 30 percent of the articles reviewed mentioned the possibility of adverse effects.
Fifty-seven percent of the articles covered only aggressive forms of cancer treatment, yet only 13.1 percent acknowledged that such treatments do not always result in improved survival. Only two of the articles (0.5 percent) mentioned end-of-life care, while only 11 (2.5 percent) mentioned both aggressive treatment and palliative care.
Such skewed coverage gives people a distorted image of their treatment options, the researchers warned.
“Unrealistic information may mislead the public about the trade-offs between attempts at heroic cures and hospice care,” they wrote.