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You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > Cancer -

Celebrity backing of cancer screening questioned

CancerMay 06, 05

Celebrities can indeed persuade people to undergo cancer screening, but researchers are not sure it’s necessarily a good thing.

Many men and women say they are more likely to undergo screening for various cancers having seen the endorsements of Rudolph Giuliani, Katie Couric and other celebrities, new study findings show.

Yet, the researchers say, persuasion may not be appropriate given the complexities involved in cancer screening - the fact that there are risks involved, such as false positive test results that can lead to unnecessary further testing and treatment.

“Because celebrities are specifically used for their powers of persuasion, we see no role in the promotion of such complex issues as cancer screening,” study author Dr. Robin J. Larson, of the Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Vermont told Reuters Health.

“Many celebrity endorsements are one-sided, highly emotional messages which contribute to the perception that screening is an obligation/responsibility and there are no down-sides to being screened,” according to co-author Dr. Steven Woloshin, of Dartmouth Medical School.

Rather than relying on such unbalanced information, “messages that targeted appropriate risk groups and encouraged thoughtful conversations with providers would be much more ideal,” Larson added.

Larson, Woloshin and their Dartmouth colleagues investigated the impact of celebrity endorsements by analyzing survey responses from 360 women, aged 40 years and older, and 140 men, aged 50 years and older. Their findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the women said they had “seen or heard celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and Nancy Reagan” talk about mammography screening for breast cancer and almost two-thirds (63 percent) of men said they “had seen or heard celebrities like Norman Schwarzkopf talk about getting PSA testing” for prostate cancer.

Further, slightly more than half (52 percent) of men and women aged 50 years or older said they “had seen or heard celebrities like Katie Couric” endorsing sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy - two screening tests for colorectal cancer.

“These messages are reaching and influencing many,” Larson said.

Indeed, up to 37 percent of adults who had seen or heard such celebrity endorsements said they were more likely to be screened for breast cancer, Prostate cancer, or Colorectal cancer, the report indicates.

“Our concern is that celebrity endorsements don’t provide the kind of balanced information that will promote informed decision making,” Woloshin said.

“There is little question that celebrities can have a powerful impact on the public and that their influence can be put to good use,” the researchers write. “However, when it comes to public health endorsements, we feel that celebrities should be judicious in using their powers of persuasion,” they conclude.

Further, Larson added, “the goal should not be that everyone be screened but that everyone be offered the opportunity to weigh the benefits and harms of screening in order to make an informed decision for themselves.”

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, May 4, 2005.

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