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Prev Chronic Dis. 2009 Jan;6(1):A23. Epub 2008 Dec 15.

Cancer risk communication in mainstream and ethnic newspapers.

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  • 1Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Rd NE, Rm 572, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.



We wanted to understand how cancer risks are communicated in mainstream and ethnic newspapers, to determine whether the 2 kinds of newspapers differ and to examine features of news stories and sources that might predict optimal risk communication.


Optimal risk communication was defined as presenting the combination of absolute risk, relative risk, and prevention response efficacy information. We collected data by conducting a content analysis of cancer news coverage from 2003 (5,327 stories in major newspapers, 565 stories in ethnic newspapers). Comparisons of mainstream and ethnic newspapers were conducted by using cross-tabulations and Pearson chi2 tests for significance. Logistic regression equations were computed to calculate odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for optimal risk communication.


In both kinds of newspapers, cancer risks were rarely communicated numerically. When numeric presentations of cancer risks were used, only 26.2% of mainstream and 29.5% of ethnic newspaper stories provided estimates of both absolute and relative risk. For both kinds of papers, only 19% of news stories presented risk communication optimally. Cancer risks were more likely to be communicated optimally if they focused on prostate cancer, were reports of new research, or discussed medical or demographic risks.


Research is needed to understand how these nonnumeric and decontextualized presentations of risk might contribute to inaccurate risk perceptions among news consumers.

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