As COVID-19 fades, newsrooms are returning to their pre-pandemic interest in major health issues, with different types of cancer garnering varying levels of attention across the media landscape.
In Australia, as with everywhere, there is a direct link between visibility of a disease state and subsequent action whether that be: population awareness; participation in screening programs; health conversations with physicians; investment in new medical technology; increased research funding, or even policy action.
Using Meltwater data, we analysed the Australian media coverage of six different cancers over the past 12 months and have examined their relative share of voice and what this means in relation to public awareness.
We compared media mentions of:
This included news (online and print) and broadcast (radio and TV) media mentions.
Breast cancer dominated media coverage with a total of 121,000 mentions. With breast cancer being the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia it is encouraging to see that its impact is matched by media interest. There was a spike of mentions in August 2022 due to the death of Olivia Newton John.
When a prominent person is related to a piece of news, this tends to amplify the media interest and subsequent coverage. In this case, when Olivia Newton John passed away following a long journey with breast cancer, it sparked a significant increase in media coverage on the topic. As a beloved Australian celebrity, she garnered widespread attention and prompted many people to engage with the story, which in turn led to increased coverage.
This shows how the media can play a crucial role in shaping public discourse, and how influential individuals can have a significant impact on the issues that receive the most attention.
Media coverage can also have a snowball effect, where the more attention a particular topic receives, the more likely it is to generate even more mentions in the media. For example, if a story about a drop in bowel cancer screening receives significant coverage, it may prompt other news outlets to follow up on the story with their own story angles and case studies, resulting in a greater overall level of attention on the topic.
Prostate cancer has the second-highest media share of voice yet had a significantly lower share of media mentions with a total of 38,900. This may be due to the high incidence rates of prostate cancer in Australia, and the country’s active campaign to raise awareness of the disease and destigmatise men’s health issues.
Prostate cancer was followed closely by bowel cancer with a total of 35,200 media mentions. Bowel cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in Australia.
John Emmerson, Director of medical communications consultancy London Agency, commented,
“Bowel cancer falling closely behind prostate cancer with a high media share of voice is encouraging given that the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program shows not enough people are getting tested so greater profile in mainstream media on the importance of participation can only help to get more Australians performing that test.”
Lung cancer had slightly lower media mentions than prostate cancer with 31,600 mentions. Lung cancer is the fifth most diagnosed cancer in Australia. In 2022, it was estimated that a person has a 1 in 20 risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer by the age of 85, 1 in 19 for males and 1 in 21 for females.
Blood cancer (including leukaemia and myeloma mentions) had comparatively lower media mentions with just 23,600 mentions. A possible explanation for blood cancer receiving lower media attention compared to other cancers, is while it is a serious and often deadly disease, it has a relatively lower incidence rate in the general population, making people less aware of the cancer.
Finally, cervical cancer had only 11,800 mentions despite the introduction of self-collection methods for cervical cancer screening in the given year.
Mr Emmerson, said, “The low number of media mentions for cervical cancer is surprising, especially given the recent introduction of self-collection for cervical cancer screening in July 2022. This suggests that there may be a lack of public awareness surrounding cervical cancer and the importance of participation in the screening program every five years.”
He continued, “The media plays a critical role in educating and informing the public about important health issues such as cervical cancer screening, and this low number of media mentions is concerning from a public health perspective. By increasing media coverage and creating more awareness, we can empower individuals to take charge of their health and make informed decisions about their screening options, ultimately leading to better health outcomes.”
The Australian media plays a critical role in raising awareness of different cancers, encouraging screening and early detection, along with symptom awareness. By providing accurate and up-to-date information on the topic, the media can help to dispel myths and misconceptions about cancers, reduce stigma, and promote public health.
In this way, earned media health campaigns successfully engage, educate, and inform the public.
Media share of voice is a good indicator of public awareness and understanding of various health issues, including cancer. The differences in media coverage for cancers in Australia reflect the prevalence of those cancers in the population and the level of public awareness surrounding them.
While breast, bowel, and prostate cancers received the most Australian media coverage, the low number of media mentions for cervical cancer suggests a need for increased public awareness and education about this important issue.
By providing accurate and up-to-date information about cancers, the media can play a vital role in promoting public health and reducing the impact of cancer in the Australian population.
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