What cancer research makes the news? A quantitative analysis of online news stories that mention cancer studies

Laura Moorhead*, Melinda Krakow, Lauren Maggio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Journalists health and science reporting aid the public s direct access to research through the inclusion of hyperlinks leading to original studies in peer-reviewed journals. While this effort supports the US-government mandate that research be made widely available, little is known about what research journalists share with the public. This cross-sectional exploratory study characterises US-government-funded research on cancer that appeared most frequently in news coverage and how that coverage varied by cancer type, disease incidence and mortality rates. The subject of analysis was 11436 research articles (published in 2016) on cancer funded by the US government and 642 news stories mentioning at least one of these articles. Based on Altmetric data, researchers identified articles via PubMed and characterised each based on the news media attention received online. Only 1.88% (n = 213) of research articles mentioning US government-funded cancer research included at least one mention in an online news publication. This is in contrast to previous research that found 16.8% (n = 1925) of articles received mention by online mass media publications. Of the 13 most common cancers in the US, 12 were the subject of at least one news mention; only urinary and bladder cancer received no mention. Traditional news sources included significantly more mentions of research on common cancers than digital native news sources. However, a general discrepancy exists between cancers prominent in news sources and those with the highest mortality rate. For instance, lung cancer accounted for the most deaths annually, while melanoma led to 56% less annual deaths; however, journalists cited research regarding these cancers nearly equally. Additionally, breast cancer received the greatest coverage per estimated annual death, while pancreatic cancer received the least coverage per death. Findings demonstrated a continued misalignment between prevalent cancers and cancers mentioned in online news media. Additionally, cancer control and prevention received less coverage from journalists than other cancer continuum stages, highlighting a continued underrepresentation of prevention-focused research. Results revealed a need for further scholarship regarding the role of journalists in research dissemination.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0247553
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


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