Health News Review

We interrupt breast cancer awareness month messages to bring you some prostate cancer awareness news.

After we wrote about problems with a Buffalo prostate cancer screening promotion, reader Ken Leebow of Atlanta wrote to me about what the NBC station in Atlanta has been doing.

What is particularly problematic in this campaign is that journalists are blatantly taking an advocacy stance on behalf of a practice that comes with deep reservations and cautions from leading health care groups, as noted in our Buffalo post.

In this video (top) and in the flyer (below), you’ll see WXIA newsmen becoming pitchmen for a cause.


The Radio Television Digital News Association code of ethics states that journalists should:

  •  Recognize that service in the public interest creates an obligation to reflect the diversity of the community and guard against oversimplification of issues or events. (My comment:  this campaign clearly oversimplifies the complexity of the decision to consider prostate cancer screening.)
  • Provide a full range of information to enable the public to make enlightened decisions. (My comment:  where is the full range of – or even a hint at – the tradeoffs involved between potential benefits and harms in prostate cancer screening?)
  • Journalists should not engage in activities that may compromise their integrity or independence. (My comment:  once you partner with a health care facility and advocate for their cause, how can the audience ever be assured that you will report on that entity with the same vigor as if that partnership/advocacy relationship did not exist?)

That doesn’t even begin to address the “Independence” clause of the code, which begins: “Professional electronic journalists should defend the independence of all journalists from those seeking influence or control over news content.”

Any journalist who put on that gown for these ads has been influenced by those seeking influence.

Finally, read the ad copy in the lowest ad.  It says “If your doctor recommends prostate cancer screening for you….”  Whoa.  How does that mesh with the call for “screening decisions to be based on patient preferences” ? This isn’t about doctors’ recommendations.  This is about men being fully informed about what they stand to gain and what they stand to lose, and then plugging their own values and preferences into that equation.

Fully informed. Something not possible from this silly ad campaign that turns newsmen into promoters.


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Katherine OBrien posted on October 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm

How you do you feel about ABC Going Pink for October?

    Gary Schwitzer posted on October 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm


    Look, I’ve always been an admirer of Robin Roberts and I’m happy to see her back on the air after what she’s been through and is going through.

    But that piece that Sara Haines presented about “4 Things That Hurt More Than a Mammogram” was ridiculous. With all of that airtime, ABC could have delivered a balanced, and relatively complete discussion of the state of the science. That would involve a discussion of the tradeoffs – the potential benefits and the potential harms. But they didn’t. They “went pink.” They went “pop.” And they didn’t elevate the discussion.

    And that’s why we get much of what we get in the poor public dialogue about mammography and about all screening tests.

Katherine OBrien posted on October 17, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Beyond the dubious news value…that “report” basically repurposed Geryalyn “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy” Lucas’ schtick.

For almost the past two decades Geralyn has made a career of promoting her funny ha-ha perspective on breast cancer. She showed her OWN version of “What Hurts More…” two years ago during a speaking engagement at Wellness House in Hinsdale, IL.

So all Sara did was give Geralyn a fresh clip to show with her cheesy Lifetime movie. (I didn’t see the movie, only the highlights Geralyn shared at the talk. However the book seems to feature every cliche possible…the sassy African American woman who attends Lucas’ first lecture; the Colorful Ethnic cab driver who turns up at the exact right moment to share his own uplifting cancer tale and on and on…)

In Hinsdale, Geralyn urged us all to “find our inner cleavage.” I pointed out I can’ t have reconstruction and have metastatic breast cancer which is incurable. I asked her why she didn’t talk about the need for a breast cancer cure or even the danger of recurrence (30% of those treated for early stage breast cancer will have a metastatic recurrence).

Geralyn lead a round of pity applause for me. She’ll never change–she is making a fine living peddling her happy fun cancer message and ABC just validated it for her…
Sadly, Geralyn does indeed hold a journalism degree….

Daniel Pendick posted on October 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

“There is no doubt that early detection is the key to successful treatment of cancer.”

In my experience, as soon as I came to understand that there is, indeed, much room to doubt this, I was in a position to offer readers something of value, rather than self-serving platitudes. As for prostate cancer, it is a complex question, but there is no doubt that PLCO and ERSPC introduced a lot of credible doubt about the early-diagnosis-and-treatment hypothesis. It’s up to us (the health reporters) to understand this. The disease advocacy economy will always say the same thing: test, test, test, treat, treat, treat. It’s a happy, positive message that sells.