Add the New York Daily News to my list of news organizations taking an unhealthy advocacy stance for screening tests.
A promotion in the paper screams out, “Get your free prostate cancer screening, courtesy of the Daily News”:
Beginning on Father’s Day, New York’s hometown newspaper offers these free tests every year, because we believe we should help New Yorkers take care of themselves.
So far more than 120,000 men have taken our free tests, and almost 10,000 have found that they need further action.
The screening is quick and easily performed.
Let’s stop and break that down. More than 120,000 men have taken the free tests and almost 10,000 found they need further action? How many were false positives? How many faced further testing, treatment and anxiety that lead to nothing?
The screening is quick and easily performed? Does that mean that the decision about whether to have it should be quick and easy? Or should a man slow down and consider some of the cascading consequences of this “quick and easy blood test?”
Back to the newspaper promo:
The American Cancer Society recommends that men take the screenings from the age of 50, but high-risk males who include African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer.
The Cancer Society may recommend that, but the group viewed as the “gold standard” in making preventive health recommendations, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, does not. USPSTF states:
The USPSTF found good evidence that PSA screening can detect early-stage prostate cancer but mixed and inconclusive evidence that early detection improves health outcomes. Screening is associated with important harms, including frequent false-positive results and unnecessary anxiety, biopsies, and potential complications of treatment of some cancers that may never have affected a patient’s health. The USPSTF concludes that evidence is insufficient to determine whether the benefits outweigh the harms for a screened population.
Why, oh why, don’t news organizations tell the other side of this story? Why don’t they tell the evidence-based side of the story, instead of playing on peoples’ fears to help sell newspapers?