Personalized cancer medicine in the media: Sensationalism or realistic reporting?

Katherine Hicks-Courant, Jenny Shen, Angela Stroupe, Angel Cronin, Elizabeth F. Bair, Sam E. Wing, Ernesto Sosa, Rebekah H. Nagler, Stacy W. Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Given that media coverage can shape healthcare expectations, it is essential that we understand how the media frames "personalized medicine" (PM) in oncology, and whether information about unproven technologies is widely disseminated.

METHODS: We conducted a content analysis of 396 news reports related to cancer and PM published between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2011. Two coders independently coded all the reports using a pre-defined framework. Determination of coverage of "standard" and "non-standard" therapies and tests was made by comparing the media print/broadcast date to the date of Federal Drug Administration approval or incorporation into clinical guidelines.

RESULTS: Although the term "personalized medicine" appeared in all reports, it was clearly defined only 27% of the time. Stories more frequently reported PM benefits than challenges (96% vs. 48%, p < 0.001). Commonly reported benefits included improved treatment (89%), prediction of side effects (30%), disease risk prediction (33%), and lower cost (19%). Commonly reported challenges included high cost (28%), potential for discrimination (29%), and concerns over privacy and regulation (21%). Coverage of inherited DNA testing was more common than coverage of tumor testing (79% vs. 25%, p < 0.001). Media reports of standard tests and treatments were common; however, 8% included information about non-standard technologies, such as experimental medications and gene therapy.

CONCLUSION: Confusion about personalized cancer medicine may be exacerbated by media reports that fail to clearly define the term. While most media stories reported on standard tests and treatments, an emphasis on the benefits of PM may lead to unrealistic expectations for cancer genomic care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number741
JournalJournal of Personalized Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 28 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the American Cancer Society, Grant #120529-MRSG-11-006-01-CPPB.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Genomic testing
  • News media
  • Personalized medicine
  • Public awareness
  • Targeted therapies

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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