How the news media cover cancer may have profound significance for cancer prevention and control; however, little is known about the actual content of cancer news coverage in Korea. This research thus aimed to examine news portrayal of specific cancer types with respect to threat and efficacy, and to investigate whether news portrayal corresponds to actual cancer statistics. A content analysis of 1,138 cancer news stories was conducted, using a representative sample from 23 news outlets (television, newspapers, and other news media) in Korea over a 5-year period from 2008 to 2012. Cancer incidence and mortality rates were obtained from the Korean Statistical Information Service. Results suggest that threat was most prominent in news stories on pancreatic cancer (with 87% of the articles containing threat information with specific details), followed by liver (80%) and lung cancers (70%), and least in stomach cancer (41%). Efficacy information with details was conveyed most often in articles on colorectal (54%), skin (54%), and liver (50%) cancers, and least in thyroid cancer (17%). In terms of discrepancies between news portrayal and actual statistics, the threat of pancreatic and liver cancers was overreported, whereas the threat of stomach and prostate cancers was underreported. Efficacy information regarding cervical and colorectal cancers was overrepresented in the news relative to cancer statistics; efficacy of lung and thyroid cancers was underreported. Findings provide important implications for medical professionals to understand news information about particular cancers as a basis for public (mis)perception, and to communicate effectively about cancer risk with the public and patients.
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