We wonder how much reportage of pancreatic cancer exists in the media and what influences this coverage. We believe that the pancreas itself is not fully appreciated by the general population and most knowledge about it comes from patient information, once the organ has become diseased. Pancreatic cancer thankfully affects a small proportion of the population (either directly or indirectly), but has a poor 5-year survival outcome. This lack of insight into the pancreas, coupled with a relatively low incidence of malignancy means that pancreatic cancer does not have as high profile as other tumours (for example breast, cervical and lung).
One potential factor for the raised awareness of certain malignancies may relate to celebrities – for example Kylie Minogue and breast cancer and Jade Goody and cervical cancer. The diseases of both of these celebrities were played out in the media and there were associated increases in screening of disease in the general population . The very mention of these cancers in the media may have improved public education and awareness. It is possible that the media is one of the most important health information sources available to the general population and therefore we are keen to explore how health professionals can influence this resource .
Patrick Swayze was a very popular actor who has recently fought a public battle with pancreatic cancer. We decided to assess the number of articles that existed around the time of his illness to see if he had an influence in the reportage of the disease. The ten most read daily UK newspapers were assessed for the number of articles mentioning pancreatic cancer over a 24-month period, via their online search facilities . This period overlapped the dates of Patrick Swayze’s illness (January 2008-September 2009).
A total of 550 articles were reported over this 24-month period, averaging 23 per month. During this period there were 3 key events related to Patrick Swayze: March 2008 (diagnosis made public) 38 articles, January 2009 (he developed pneumonia) 78 articles and September 2009 (he died) 64 articles. The total number of articles relating to him and pancreatic cancer was 180 (i.e. 1/3 of total reportage). Reportage of pancreatic cancer by some newspapers is heavily dependent on this celebrity (95% or more of the articles in 3 tabloid newspapers related directly to Patrick Swayze).
We believe that health professionals could work in conjunction with public health officials and journalists to form a partnership to ensure a co-ordinated approach in how medical information is presented to the print media. This collaboration would ensure better dissemination of patient education to the population and hopefully enhance the background knowledge of medical conditions . This new strategy would exist in conjunction with the presentation of medical information by traditional means (consultations and patient information leaflets) and utilise a newspaper’s own writing style and format to ensure optimal uptake by readership .
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2: Schwitzer G, Mudur G, Henry D, Wilson A, Goozner M, Simbra M, Sweet M, Baverstock KA. What are the roles and responsibilities of the media in disseminating health information? PLoS medicine 2005;2:576-582
3: National Readership Survey. NRS readership estimates – Newspapers and supplements. October 2008-September 2009. http://www.nrs.co.uk/toplinereadership.html (accessed November 2009)
4: Williamson JML, Hocken DB. How much Vascular Disease is reported by the UK Media? International Journal of Clinical Practice (in press)
5: Williamson JML and Martin AG. Analysis of patient information leaflets provided by a district general hospital by the Flesch and Flesch-Kincaid method. International Journal of Clinical Practice (in press)