We live in an increasingly social age, with more information available instantly for public access than ever before. On most occasions this creates a more informed and educated population, but in some situations the bombardment of unending and sometimes conflicting stories can be confusing and counterproductive – especially when it concerns health issues like cancer.
Whether someone has been diagnosed with cancer or not, there is a constant reminder of the disease in our everyday lives. The local and national news report stories on the topic everyday, but the truth is that it is hard to trust all of the stories we hear on the news. Even for healthy individuals the reports create a sense of fear, but for cancer patients the stories can instill unfavorable negativity.
The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance spoke to former CNN Medical Correspondent Andrew Holtz, who has been reporting on health and medicine for over 20 years and has done his fair share of cancer stories. Holtz stated, "There is reporting about cancer that is insightful and useful. There is also reporting about cancer that is full of hype, skewed to either unreasonable promises or hurtful fear mongering".
Signs of False Reporting
As a precautionary measure Holtz created a list of some signs of irresponsible reporting that people should be aware of when watching cancer stories in the media. He said to look out for:
- Cancer Tests for All
Blanket assertions that testing for cancer is always beneficial. While detecting cancer when it's small can make a difference in some cases, early detection doesn't change the outcome in many others. It's important to be specific about which tests may benefit specific types of people in specific circumstances. Much reporting about PSA screening, for example, mislead people.
- 'Revolutionary' Drugs or Procedures
Claims that a new drug or procedure could revolutionize cancer treatment. Especially when such claims are based on lab or animal tests, they should be viewed with extreme skepticism. News reports should always highlight the limitations of a research study and the likely challenges facing an experimental treatment.
- Exotic Treatments
Too many news reports about cancer (or other diseases) focus on exotic or extreme treatment attempts in advanced cases, often involving patients who have not responded to several treatments. Such cases represent a tiny minority and are largely irrelevant to people with typical cases.
- Guaranteed Cancer Prevention
Stories that promise ways to prevent cancer are generally misleading, with a few exceptions. Not smoking does make a dramatic difference. Avoiding too much sun helps, as does eating less meat and more fruits and vegetables. But there is no surefire way to prevent cancer. So people shouldn't put too much stock in stories that make grand promises. And they definitely shouldn't be made to feel guilty if they are diagnosed with cancer.
For more from Andrew Holtz you can visit his website.
However, not all cancer reporting in the media is meant to be deceiving. Many cancer organizations and doctors work hard to spread awareness and education to people to help a potential patient become more knowledgeable on signs to look for and treatment options available to them should they be diagnosed.
Cancer and a Sense of Community
Elika Kormeili, a licensed therapist based out of Los Angeles, sees the media as a tool for education rather than a fear monger. She recognizes that media exposure can cause desensitization to the topic, but she primarily thinks the coverage is opening the cancer topic up for discussion. “In general [cancer in the media] is helpful and educational. There are so many people who still believe they are immune to cancer and that they do not have to worry about it”, Kormeili said.
Even for cancer patients, Kormeili believes the coverage is beneficial rather than frightening. “Finding out you have cancer can be devastating and can create a sense of loneliness. For these individuals such stories, blogs, support groups can create a sense of community, which helps to ‘normalize' the experience and individuals can support each other”. In the end, the media coverage is helping educate the public about the risk factors of cancer and its prevention, which, in Kormeili’s eyes, is the most important thing.
It is hard to correctly determine whether the media is a positive or negative presence in the cancer community. The stories that are heard on the news or in a magazine can be upsetting, but by utilizing CNN Medical Correspondent Andrew Holtz’s 4 steps to wade through the noise, you will find that there is an equal amount of informative health coverage to counter the more ridiculous reports. No matter what, it is important that cancer remains a relevant topic of discussion and the media coverage can only help that.