Public estimates of cancer frequency: Cancer incidence perceptions mirror distorted media depictions

Jakob D. Jensen*, Courtney L. Scherr, Natasha Brown, Christina Jones, Katheryn Christy, Ryan J. Hurley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Compared with incidence rates, certain cancers are over- or underrepresented in news coverage. Past content analytic research has consistently documented these news distortions, but no study has examined whether they are related to public perception of cancer incidence. Adults (N = 400) completed a survey with questions about perceived cancer incidence, news consumption, and attention to health news. Cancer incidence perceptions paralleled previously documented news distortions. Overrepresented cancers were overestimated (e.g., blood, head/brain) and underrepresented cancers were underestimated (e.g., male reproductive, lymphatic, thyroid, and bladder). Self-reported news consumption was related to perceptual distortions such that heavier consumers were more likely to demonstrate distorted perceptions of four cancers (bladder, blood, breast, and kidney). Distortions in risk perception and news coverage also mirrored discrepancies in federal funding for cancer research. Health care professionals, journalists, and the public should be educated about these distortions to reduce or mitigate potential negative effects on health behavior and decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-624
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Volume19
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Library and Information Sciences

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