Misleading presentation of breast cancer in popular magazines.

W. Burke, A. H. Olsen, L. E. Pinsky, S. E. Reynolds, N. A. Press

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


CONTEXT: Women commonly misunderstand their risk for breast cancer, overestimating both their risk for developing the disease at a young age and their lifetime risk. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether age bias occurs in popular media coverage of breast cancer. SELECTION STRATEGY: The search term breast cancer was used to identify 389 articles in U.S. magazines with a circulation of at least 500,000 published between January 1, 1993, and June 30, 1997. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Presence of age-related themes and age of patients with breast cancer who were described in vignettes. RESULTS: Age-related themes included breast cancer as a cause of premature death, breast cancer in mothers of young children, and the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on dating and marriage. Factual information about age as a risk factor for breast cancer was presented in only 14% of articles, and age was often included in vignettes describing a woman with breast cancer. Thirty-four percent of the articles included one or more breast cancer vignettes. These articles included 172 unique vignettes in which patient age was described. In 84% of the vignettes (144 of 172), women were diagnosed with breast cancer before 50 years of age; in 47% (80 of 172), women were diagnosed before 40 years of age. On the basis of the age-specific incidence of breast cancer in the United States, the expected percentages would be 16% and 3.6%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Stories about breast cancer in popular U.S. magazines misrepresent the age distribution of the disease, emphasizing atypical cases of early-onset breast cancer and their social consequences. This presentation of breast cancer may contribute to women's fears of breast cancer and to overestimates of personal risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-64
Number of pages7
JournalEffective clinical practice : ECP
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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