Over-60s 'feel ignored' by cancer coverage

25 May 2018
A large proportion of over-60s are feeling underrepresented in media coverage of cancer, according to a new report.

Age is known to be a risk factor in some types of cancer, and with the ageing population growing in the UK, it is only likely that age-related cases of the disease will continue to rise.

Despite this, a recent survey has revealed that a significant number of over-60s in Britain feel underrepresented in media coverage of cancer and wish there was more information out there targeted at their age group.

On the flipside, some view cancer as an older people's illness and are shocked to hear of younger people being diagnosed with diseases like breast cancer. So what does the real picture look like, and where can older people find support that's specially suited to them?

How over-60s are represented in cancer coverage

A study carried out at the University of Glasgow, supported by funding from Cancer Research UK, found that almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of stories in the media from non-celebrities discussing cancer focused on patients aged 60 and under. Just 15 per cent included over-60s.

This discovery followed the analysis of 800 newspaper articles covering breast, lung, prostate and colorectal cancer from between 2003 and 2004, and then 2013 to 2014 to see if there had been any significant change over time.

These four types of cancer account for one-third of all those affecting over-75s, but would you know this from the articles you read and the adverts you seen on the TV?

Just 12 per cent of the articles examined actually mentioned age as a risk factor for cancer, and this was only discussed in any detail in 2.5 per cent of pieces. What's more, no significant changes were recorded over the ten-year study period.

Lead author of the study Sara Macdonald commented: "Our findings are concerning because we know the media are a key influence on the public's understanding and awareness of health issues, including cancer risk, such as in the cases of Jade Goody and Kylie Minogue, both of which resulted in increased screening uptake.

"As older adults are underrepresented in cancer stories, they may miss out on information which could mobilise them to take up screening or seek help."

What's more, over-60s who are diagnosed with cancer may be left feeling isolated and alone in dealing with their illness if they cannot relate to media coverage of their disease, potentially affecting their wellbeing.

Where older cancer patients can find support

The media does have a role to play in making sure it portrays more stories that revolve around cancers affecting older people, but while it makes these changes, there are plenty of places where over-60s can access expert cancer support tailored to their current stage in life.

For example, the charity Macmillan Cancer Support has dedicated resources for older people who are diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones, looking at how to deal with everything from the emotions surrounding a diagnosis to more practical matters. Age UK also has plenty of resources aimed at members of the older generation who are living with cancer.

Meanwhile, Victoria Steven, spokesperson for Cancer Research UK in Scotland, explained: "Cancer Research UK works hard to be representative and evidence-based in its own communications and we are proud of the work we do with patients and people affected by cancer to seek their opinions and input into both our communications and our research."

However, your first port of call for any concerns should be your GP, who will be able to refer you to services that could help, including talking therapies like counselling, should you feel the need for them to help you come to terms with a diagnosis and work out how to move forward.

Try to surround yourself with a supportive network of your own too, with friends and family members who can take you to appointments, check in on you regularly and listen to you when you're feeling overwhelmed with your situation. That way, it won't matter quite so much when media coverage isn't the most relatable - you'll have your own network of support stopping you from feeling so isolated, much closer to home.

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