Despite the fact that more women die from Media Devotes More Attention to Breast Cancer Than Heart Disease Despite its Higher Risk (dateline March 10, 2003) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Media Devotes More Attention to Breast Cancer Than Heart Disease Despite its Higher Risk (dateline March 10, 2003)

Despite the fact that more women die from heart disease than all other cancers combined, the American media continues to focus more attention on breast cancer than cardiovascular disease. A new study of popular magazines finds breast cancer references appear significantly more often than articles devoted to heart disease. Consequently, experts say that many women overestimate their risk of developing breast cancer.

Coronary artery disease is the number one cause of death in the United States among both men and women. Over 500,000 American women die of cardiovascular disease each year, compared to 65,000 deaths from the leading cause of cancer (lung cancer) and 40,000 deaths from breast cancer. One in five women have some form of heart or blood vessel disease. Furthermore, over 60,000 women die of stroke each year.

While working as a Research Assistant at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Deena Blanchard and her colleagues studied the media’s devotion to breast cancer versus heart disease. By conducting Internet searches of popular women’s magazines, Deena Blanchard and her colleagues calculated how many articles on breast cancer and heart disease appeared in 73 women’s magazines between 1990 and 1999. Magazines used in the survey included everything from Vogue to Newsweek. A total of 697 articles focused on or mentioned breast cancer, and 546 articles were devoted to or mentioned heart disease.

Among 13 magazines, the devotion to breast cancer was particularly clear. In those magazines, 286 articles discussed breast cancer while only 109 focused on heart disease. The researchers also found that the attention to breast cancer increased substantially in recent years. More articles on the subject appeared between 1997 and 1999 compared to earlier years.

The media’s uneven devotion to breast cancer undoubtedly plays a role in women’s overestimated fears of the disease. A survey conducted by the American Heart Association in 2000 found that only 8% of women perceived heart disease as the greatest threat to their health. More than six out of 10 women falsely believed that they were more likely to develop cancer than heart disease.

Moreover, the lack of attention devoted to heart disease may not occur only with the media. In the American Heart Association survey, only 20% of the women reported seeing any literature on heart disease in their doctors’ offices.

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