How do the media report cancer research? A study of the UK’s BBC website

G Lewison, S Tootell, P Roe and R Sullivan

July 11, 2008 by Prof. Sullivan in ICP Reports

This study examined cancer research stories on the BBC web archive (July 1998 – June 2006). There were about 260 BBC stories per  year, of which about 170 were classed as relevant to reports of cancer research. The stories focused heavily on breast cancer, and over one-third of them mentioned this (compared with a cancer disease burden of 13%); the next most covered sites were lung and prostate cancers, although the former was much less mentioned than its cancer disease burden of almost 20% would have suggested.

The focus of the stories was often on new or improved drugs or vaccines (20% of stories), with lifestyle choices (12%), genetic developments (9%), and food and drink (8%) also featuring fairly prominently. The BBC stories cited about 1380 research papers that could be identified as journal articles. About three-quarters of the cited papers were in the field of cancer. The papers of these authors came from over 60 countries, and 40% were from the United Kingdom and 36% from the United States. UK cancer research was heavily overcited, by about 6:1, relative to its presence in world oncology research and US research was cited about in proportion. That of most other countries, especially Japan, Germany, and Austria, was relatively undercited. These cited papers also acknowledged more funding bodies. Most of the BBC stories were put in context by external commentators, of whom the large majority was from the UK’s cancer research charities…..

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