Original Article

Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 49-55

First online:

How is cancer recently portrayed in Canadian newspapers compared to 20 years ago?

  • Melissa HenryAffiliated withDepartment of Oncology, McGill UniversitySegal Cancer Centre, Jewish General Hospital Email author 
  • , Brendan TrickeyAffiliated withMcGill University
  • , Lina Nuoxin HuangAffiliated withMcGill University
  • , S. Robin CohenAffiliated withDepartment of Oncology, McGill UniversityDepartment of Medicine, McGill UniversityLady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital

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This study investigated cancer portrayals in newspapers now and 20 years ago. Six major daily newspapers from regions across Canada were studied. All articles from a 3-month period in 2008 (n = 576) and 1988 or 1989 (n = 412) focusing on cancer were analyzed. Cancer is a more prevalent topic and is depicted in a more positive light in newspapers now when compared to 20 years ago. In 2008, the most common cancer-related themes were cancer research (27%), risk factors (26%), treatment (24%), education/prevention (20%), and fundraising events (19%). Compared to 1988/1989, in 2008, there was a significant decrease in articles covering the end of life and surgery, while there was a significant increase in articles portraying the senior population, male issues, individual stories depicting people suffering from cancer, the health care system, fundraising events, and ethics and law. The percentage of articles on psychosocial aspects of the cancer experience remained the same in 1988/1989 compared with 2008, with 16% of articles covering psychological aspects (vs. 17% in 2008), 5.6% social aspects (vs. 3.9% in 2008), and 0.2% spiritual aspects (vs. 0.5% in 2008). In 2008, few cancer articles spoke in-depth about palliative care (2.8%), issues concerning death and dying (5%), or bereavement (1%). Cancer newspaper reporting mostly focuses on the physical aspects of cancer rather than presenting a more holistic approach including psychosocial issues. Implications of the shifts in tone and content of newspaper reporting are discussed. We highlight the importance of promoting coverage of distress as the sixth vital sign in newspaper press so as to inform readers about the experience of cancer and the existence of psychosocial services designed to optimize quality of life.


Newspaper Media Cancer Representation Content Psychosocial