Terminal illness is something that most people would rather not talk about, but it’s that avoidance that could be making the lives of terminally ill people even shorter, a new study says. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia found that media outlets with largely African-American audiences weren’t putting out the message that hospice care can greatly enhance the quality of life for the terminally ill.
Hospice care, which is usually provided at home by a caregiver, provides medical treatment, emotional support and even spiritual resources for those in the final stages of a terminal illness. The goal of hospice treatment is to help patients live their final days as alert and pain-free as possible, according to the American Cancer Society. This philosophy is a shift from prescribed medical treatments, in which health professionals strive to cure disease.
In the study entitled Is public communication about end-of-life care helping to inform all? Cancer news coverage in African-American versus mainstream media, researchers argued that a more balanced representation of treatment options for cancer patients from doctors and the media should be made available. They analyzed the content of four urban newspapers with largely African-American readership and four popular African-American magazines including Ebony and Essence, finding that none of the stories discussed hospice care. Only 14 percent of 264 cancer-focused stories mentioned the adverse effects of cancer therapies, and only four percent noted that cancer treatment is not a guaranteed cure. Researchers found that eight mainstream and national magazines like Time and Redbook did better, but not by great strides.
Nationally, for all cancers combined, the death rate for African-Americans is 25 percent higher than that of whites, a troubling statistic when aligned against the study’s findings.
"We can put our heads in the sand about end-of-life care," said Jessica M. Fishman, lead researcher on the new study, to Reuters Health. "Or we can find out how to make things better for patients and their loved ones."
Fishman said a frank discussion between the media, patients and doctors about end-of-life care could make all the difference in someone’s life.
(Photo: Shaun Best/Reuters)