Hollywood’s Portrayal of Cancer

by: cancercompass

As the year winds down, Hollywood studios will release their heavy-hitter movies designed to attract Oscar attention. Many times, this involves a serious subject matter, or perhaps there is a central character who is battling cancer.

The subject of cancer hits close to home for almost everyone, and watching movies that involve a patient’s struggle can be upsetting to watch. Case in point, I’ve had the film 50/50 sitting on my DVR for months now, partly because I’ve never been quite in the right mood to watch it.

It turns out that what Hollywood has been showing on the big screen regarding cancer just isn’t accurate. In fact, a new study suggests that movies do not show a cancer patient’s chances of survival accurately, and they do not show audiences that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t always mean death will soon follow.

For the study, researchers watched 82 movies that center on a person with cancer. In 63 percent of the movies viewed, the patients died. Cancer symptoms were mentioned in 72 percent of the movies and diagnostic tests were mentioned in 65 percent.

In many cases, a patient dying served merely as a device to further the plot. What’s more disappointing is that while cancer treatments have advanced over the years, the film industry’s depiction of cancer still has not changed.

This would indicate that the Hollywood focus probably won’t change anytime soon, unless of course there is a major breakthrough in the fight. The study noted that the treatments most often mentioned were chemotherapy and pain relief, even though there are many, many more options available out there for each unique type and stage of cancer. 

There is nothing wrong with heading to the movies for a good cry from time to time; that’s why I will watch Steel Magnolias any time it’s on TV. However, it’s important to remember that movies often bend the facts in order to serve their own purposes of entertainment. The depiction of someone with cancer usually isn’t going to be accurate, so try not to feel discouraged.

Another solution is that until Hollywood really gets it right, just go ahead and boycott any movies about cancer that don’t present the truth.

I’ve heard many positive things about 50/50, and I know that it is based on a true story of a young man who battled cancer and then wrote this amazing, almost-Oscar-nominated screenplay (many insist the lack of nomination was a snub). I will take a look soon and report back, as I would imagine that it takes a much more accurate look at the truths behind fighting cancer, rather than using it as a plot device.