1408 - Oncomovies: cancer in cinema

Date 28 September 2012
Event ESMO Congress 2012
Session Publication Only
Topics Bioethics, Legal, and Economic Issues
Patient Education and Advocacy
Presenter Giovanni Rosti
Authors G. Rosti1, A. Costantini2, M. Di Maio3, E. Bria4, D. Lorusso5, L. De Fiore6
  • 1Oncology, Ospedale Regionale Ca' Foncello, 31100 - Treviso/IT
  • 2Psychology, Psychology, Rome/IT
  • 3Clinical Trials Unit, Istituto Nazionale Tumori di Napoli, IT-80131 - Napoli/IT
  • 4Oncology, Univesrity, Verona/IT
  • 5Medical Oncology, Medical Oncology, Milan/IT
  • 6Phylosophy University Ll Sapienza, Phylosophy, Rome/IT



To describe how movies portray cancer, and the experience of illness, through an analysis of movies throughout more than 70 years of cinema.

Materials and methods

Cross-sectional descriptive study. In order to retrieve the relevant literature, we searched the Medline database using different keywords. A sample of convenience of films was analysed in which cancer had "prompt", "relevant", or "plot" character. Movies yearbook and databases (allmovie, IMDb, Movieplayer, Mymovies) were consulted. Each film was viewed by two observers who recorded patients variables (age, gender, marital status, etc), the cancer process (type, symptoms, therapy, and evolution), and the health care environment, among others.


376 papers have been retrieved, but only a small percentage has been considered as relevant to the study. 75 films produced by 13 countries (years 1939-2012) were analyzed. 40 patients were women, 35 men, and 64% belonged to the upper and upper/middle social class. The most common cancers were lymphoma, CNS tumours, and leukaemia. In 21 films the type of cancer was not mentioned. Symptoms were considered in 72% of the movies, while diagnostic tests were mentioned in 65%. The most frequent treatment mentioned in the movies was chemotherapy followed by antalgic therapy. Death occurred 46 times (63% of all moveis). Doctors and nurses turned up in 58 films (77%).


there is a trend of cancer narrative in movies, expecially in the last few years. Cancer experiences described in the films are quite different from the truth: movies prefer younger patients, higher social class; the prevalence of cancer site does not match the epidemiological data (e.g. breast cancer only in 5 movies). However, symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatments tend to be based on real life, particularly in the production of the last twenty years. Usually, cancer patients die at the end of the movie. Some of the films evaluated may be a first hand resource for training health professionals, while some others could be a valued example of malpractice.


All authors have declared no conflicts of interest.