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Open Access Correspondence

Coverage of Jade Goody's cervical cancer in UK newspapers: a missed opportunity for health promotion?

Shona Hilton* and Kate Hunt

Author Affiliations

MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, UK

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:368  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-368

Published: 24 June 2010

Abstract

Background

It has been claimed that publicity surrounding popular celebrity Jade Goody's experience of cervical cancer will raise awareness about the disease. This study examines the content of newspaper articles covering her illness to consider whether 'mobilising information' which could encourage women to adopt risk-reducing and health promoting behaviours has been included.

Methods

Content analysis of 15 national newspapers published between August 2008 and April 2009

Findings

In the extensive coverage of Goody's illness (527 articles in the 7 months of study) few newspaper articles included information that might make women more aware of the signs and symptoms or risk factors for the disease, or discussed the role of the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the recently introduced HPV vaccination programme to reduce the future incidence of cervical cancer. For example, less than 5% of articles mentioned well-known risk-factors for cervical cancer and less than 8% gave any information about HPV. The 'human interest' aspects of Goody's illness (her treatment, the spread of her disease in later months, her wedding, and her preparations for her children's future) were more extensively covered.

Conclusions

Newspaper coverage of Goody's illness has tended not to include factual or educational information that could mobilise or inform women, or help them to recognise early symptoms. However, the focus on personal tragedy may encourage women to be receptive to HPV vaccination or screening if her story acts as a reminder that cervical cancer can be a devastating and fatal disease in the longer term.