258220 War against cancer – A content analysis of the use of militaristic metaphors in cancer-related news articles

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Andy Tan, MBBS, MPH, MBA , Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Prior analyses claim that militaristic metaphors dominate public discourse about cancer in the lay media environment and that such metaphors may harm the interests of persons diagnosed with cancer (Sontag, 1991). However, few studies systematically analyses assessed the use of militaristic metaphors in media representation of cancer in relation to other non-militaristic metaphors. Objective: To describe and assess the frequency of militaristic metaphors appearing in a random sample of cancer-related news articles from a national newspaper.

Methods: A total of 798 articles from a major national newspaper (New York Times) in which the term “cancer” occurred at least 5 times were obtained through the Lexis-Nexis database. This enabled the search to be limited to articles that are substantively about cancer. Of these articles, 50 articles were randomly selected for detailed and iterative open-coding for the use of metaphors (militaristic or other types of metaphors).

Results: Militaristic metaphors were present in 13 articles (26%) and occurred 27 times. The most common themes were: 1)fighting or battling against cancer, 2)destruction or casualty, and 3)treatment as weapons. The analysis also found other forms of metaphors that were frequently used. A total of 14 unique non-militaristic metaphors were identified (12 articles(24%), 22 occurrences). The most common of these were: 1)astronomy metaphors, 2)puzzle or mystery, and 3)cancer personified.

Conclusions: Militaristic metaphors occur frequently in recent news articles in a major national newspaper. However, other forms of metaphors are also routinely used in portraying news related to cancer. Implications of these findings will be discussed.

Learning Areas:
Communication and informatics
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe and assess the frequency of militaristic metaphors appearing in a random sample of cancer-related news articles from a national newspaper. 2. Compare the use of militaristic metaphors with non-militaristic metaphors in the discourse about cancer within news articles. 3. Discuss the implications of use of metaphors for cancer communication and cancer survivors.

Keywords: Cancer, Media

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: 1. I have completed my postgraduate degree in public health (MPH), medical education (MBBS), and I am pursuing my doctoral education in health communication. 2. I conceptualized and conducted the data collection and analysis for this project.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.