Jane Wells, MBChB, MFPHM, MSc; Phillip Marshall, BSc; Barbara Crawley, MSc; Kay Dickersin, MA, PhD
Acknowledgments: The authors thank Paul van Nevel and Melissa Taylor at the National Cancer Institute and Lisa Bero and Gail Kennedy at the University of California, San Francisco, for information and advice; Helen Kelm for performing data entry; and our reviewers for their helpful comments.
Grant Support: By the Public Health training program, Oxford Regional Health Authority, United Kingdom (Dr. Wells), and the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Medicine summer student program (Mr. Marshall).
Requests for Single Reprints: Jane Wells, MBChB, MFPHM, MSc, Health Services Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Oxford, Institute of Health Sciences, Old Road, Oxford OX3 7LF, United Kingdom; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current Author Addresses: Dr. Wells: Health Services Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Oxford, Institute of Health Sciences, Old Road, Oxford OX3 7LF, United Kingdom.
Mr. Marshall: Hanover Family Practice, 9376 Atlee Station Road, Mechanicsville, VA.
Ms. Crawley: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Health Care Financing Administration, 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21244.
Dr. Dickersin: Department of Community Health, Brown University School of Medicine, 169 Angell Street, Providence, RI 02912.
Author Contributions: Conception and design: J. Wells, K. Dickersin.
Analysis and interpretation of the data: J. Wells, K. Dickersin.
Drafting of the article: J. Wells.
Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: J. Wells, P. Marshall, K. Dickersin.
Final approval of the article: J. Wells, P. Marshall, K. Dickersin.
Provision of study materials or patients: J. Wells.
Statistical expertise: K. Dickersin.
Obtaining of funding: J. Wells.
Administrative, technical, or logistic support: B. Crawley, K. Dickersin.
Collection and assembly of data: J. Wells, P. Marshall.
Continuing controversy surrounds screening mammography, particularly for women 40 to 49 years of age. Newspapers are potentially important sources of information on this topic, but it is not known whether they provide well-founded and objective information and recommendations.
To examine how screening mammography is reported in newspapers.
Cross-sectional descriptive study.
6 top-circulation U.S. newspapers, 1990 to 1997.
Number of articles about screening mammography, issues covered by the articles, information sources, content and sources of quotes, recommendations cited in articles, and presentation of risks and benefits.
The most common theme of newspaper articles about mammography was screening for women 40 to 49 years of age. Thirty-one percent of the articles presented information without citing a source or justification. Quotes and recommendations in the articles were approximately twice as likely to support as to express reservations about mammography for women aged 40 to 49 years. Recommendations changed little over time and rarely reflected changes in recommendations of national organizations. Of the 102 articles describing the benefits of mammography, 95% expressed them in relative terms and 11% expressed them in absolute terms.
Newspapers tended to overrepresent support for screening mammography for women aged 40 to 49 years. Reports would have been improved by identification of all sources for information cited, less reliance on relatively few sources, and discussion of benefits in absolute as well as relative terms. Medical journalism may benefit from identification of standards similar to those used for reporting medical research.
Wells J, Marshall P, Crawley B, Dickersin K. Newspaper Reporting of Screening Mammography. Ann Intern Med. 2001;135:1029–1037. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-135-12-200112180-00006
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2001;135(12):1029-1037.
Breast Cancer, Cancer Screening/Prevention, Hematology/Oncology, Prevention/Screening.
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