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The terminal script

Researchers say it is high time filmmakers stopped using cancer to only make weepies.

A first-of-its-kind study that analysed 82 movies centred around cancer, from Love Story, An Autumn In New York to Diary of a Country Priestfound that rarely is the patient allowed a chance to survive. Dr Luciano De Fiore of Sapienza University, Rome is all set to present a study at the Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Vienna.

The study concluded that characters having cancer died in 63 per cent of films. For some reason, women were more favoured as cancer patients. For the rest, there is little effort to detail the disease or its treatment.

In 21 films, the type of cancer was not mentioned. When it is, interestingly, it is rare leukemia, lymphoma or brain tumour.

The most frequent treatment mentioned in the movies is chemotherapy. In recent years, movies have tackled some of the most important issues around cancer, says Fiore, such as epidemiology and environmental causes of cancer in Erin Brockovich, Michael Claytonor The Last 56 Hoursand the economic implications of therapies in The Rainmaker.

Says Fiore: "Cancer is no easy matter to portray, and seeing it in a movie gives the audience a chance to give a voice to their emotions. This is useful for the sharing of cancer care, from personal or familiar problems to issues of collective relevance. " Very often the illness is brought in because it is somehow useful to the plot's outcome. "This pattern is so strongly standardised that it persists despite real progress of treatments, " he says. "Patients' survival is very rarely due to treatments in the cinema. Despite these flaws, movies about cancer could have a positive impact, for patients and for doctors, say the researchers. KS

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