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.
Annals of internal medicine 01/2002; 135(12):1029-37. · 16.10 Impact Factor