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Risk communication in the media’s coverage of suspected cancer clusters in Ontario, Canada

Authors: Catherine Slavik*, McMaster University, Niko Yiannakoulias, McMaster University
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Communication, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: Cancer cluster, risk communication, newspaper, urban health, Canada
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cancer clusters attract considerable interest from the public, the media and governments when they are reported. The media’s role in informing the public of cancer clusters and communicating risk can be instrumental in how the public will perceive environmental health risks. This study examined how the media’s risk communication of suspected cancer clusters in Ontario, Canada differed across various geographic contexts. A media content analysis was conducted to quantify the level of qualitative and quantitative risk communicated by the media and how much information on cancer risk factors was reported in the media’s coverage of cancer clusters. 84 news articles on cancer clusters in Ontario during 1990-2017 were retrieved from various databases and word frequencies for a selection of words associated with qualitative risk, quantitative risk and cancer risk factors were calculated. On average, articles reporting on cancer clusters located in urban areas used words describing quantitative risk more frequently compared to articles reporting on cancer clusters in rural areas. Word frequencies for cancer risk factor terms were on average higher in urban articles compared to rural (p <0.005). The frequency of words describing qualitative risk were on average higher in articles reporting on occupational cancer clusters compared to environmental cancer clusters. The results from this study show that qualitative and quantitative risk language are not equally utilized across geographies in the news coverage of cancer clusters and the communication of key information on cancer risk factors by the media is limited.

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