Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Breast Cancer in the Media: Agenda-Setting and Framing Effects of Prevalent Messages on College-Aged Women

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Terry Rentner

Second Advisor

Louisa Ha (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sandra Faulkner (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Cynthia Ducar (Committee Member)


This study investigated the potential effects of breast cancer media messages on young women, a population that has the potential to make lifestyle changes early enough to prevent the disease. Based on framing and agenda-setting theories, a web survey focused on the relationships between the characteristics of prevalent breast cancer media messages and respondents' levels of breast health knowledge, breast health behaviors, and the direct behavioral impact of such messages (i.e. to take specific breast health protective actions). The agenda-setting statistical analysis revealed that college-aged women are most likely to have encountered prevalent breast cancer messages on social networking sites or television advertisements within the last one to six months. The most frequently perceived purposes of such messages are fundraising or to create awareness. Those who believe the main point of their most memorable message is to fundraise are significantly less behaviorally impacted by it than those whose message attempts to create awareness. The framing statistical analysis revealed that loss-framed messages have a significantly higher behavioral impact on participants and are more associated with detective breast health behaviors than gain-framed ones. Prevalent messages are more likely to employ anecdotal than statistical evidence to support their main points, although statistical evidence is associated with a higher behavioral impact. Finally, nearly 75 percent of participants have made a &"pink"; purchase within the past year, while just a third made plain monetary donations or volunteered at breast cancer events in the same time frame. In total, these results confirm that breast cancer is high on the health agenda of college-aged women, that the format of prevalent breast cancer messages does make a difference in the potential impact they may make, and that the most prominent quality of breast cancer to this group of women is its commerciality. These results expand both agenda-setting and framing theories to better understand the differential effects of messages and images in a health advertising context. Based on such findings, practitioners should encourage the sponsors of prevalent breast cancer media messages to alter their content for the good of society. In future, scholars must continue to study how key aspects of prevalent media messages may be altered to reduce the incidence of breast cancer and other preventable diseases.