Cancer in movies lack positive vibes

By Brandon Smith

Movies starring characters diagnosed with cancer rarely portray the reality of the disease, a new study shows.

The study, called “Cancer in the Movies,” was unveiled Sept. 20 at the annual European Society for Medical Oncology conference in Austria. Authors analyzed 82 films featuring characters with cancer and found that they very rarely reflected the actual survival rates

of patients.

“Things for cancer patients are not always as bleak as movies like to point out,” said Luciano De Fiore, chief author of the study. “Very often the ill person [in the film] does not get over his or her disease, and the death is somehow useful to the plot. This pattern is so common that it persists in spite of

real progress.”De Fiore found in 63 percent of the reviewed movies, the character died after battling cancer, as opposed to the NCI estimated 35 percent of patients that will die

this year.

In the study, De Fiore noted that the survival of a patient in a movie rarely depends on his or her treatment, which is wildly out of kilter compared to real-life situations,

he said.

The study showed that diagnostic testing, the crucial collection of data necessary to the patient’s treatment, was only mentioned in 65 percent of the films.

The study also found a disparity between the type of cancer characters had in the movies and the occurrence of more common forms of the disease. De Fiore said the films generally represent very rare types of the disease that can be deadly but take few lives annually.

“Leukemia, lymphoma and brain tumors predominate the films,” he said. “Hollywood doesn’t seem to focus on the forms of cancer that kill a lot of people except for

lung cancer.”

Though movies portray cancer as an inescapable and painful death sentence, De Fiore believes it is not Hollywood’s job to tread too close to reality. Rather, films contemplate questions of life and death.

“I don’t think films should be too much like real life,” he said. “Cinema is not a scientific process, and its scripts do not always follow historic or scientific truths.”

Evan Bartlett, a film & video major and leukemia survivor, is editing a documentary he made about the lives of cancer survivors titled “Discovering the Beating Path.” He said mainstream movies do not show cancer in a

positive way.

“Everything that is available for a lot of people to see is so negative,” he said. “The goal of my documentary is to show that cancer is not just about death and baldness. There is still life after you get diagnosed.”

Bartlett believes films like his have the power to shed positive light on living with the disease and can also help address questions about mortality.

De Fiore said using film could help raise awareness about the emotions associated with the disease and existing treatments.

“These films can be a positive role for the perceptions that people have about the disease, despite the fact it is commonly viewed as a death sentence,” De Fiore said. “Cinema does not have to represent the grievance of

oncological disease.”

As of 2009, approximately 13 million Americans had battled cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2012 cancer will claim close to 600,000 lives, and three times as many people will be diagnosed with some a of the disease.

“Cancer nowadays plays an important role in our lives,” De Fiore said. “Cinema is an art which, by means of moving images and sound, seeks to reflect all aspects of human life and all that affects and

interests it.”