Celebrity health advice, continued

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Less than 24 hours after we blogged about USA Today’s story about some of the problems with celebrities’ health advice, the Associated Press reports that 71-year old Teresa Heinz, wife of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, “says she is being treated for breast cancer discovered through mammography and argues that younger women should continue undergoing the tests despite a federal panel’s recent recommendation to reduce their frequency.”

As is typical with such stories, the celebrity was provided a platform for her views and there was no countering comment from any evidence-based supporter of the US Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendations.

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Sue H.

December 23, 2009 at 1:48 pm

I agree with Ms. Heinz–the panel’s recommendation was given partly so women didn’t have to undergo unnecessary anxiety with a potential false alarm. But I think it’s safe to say most women can live with a little anxiety, but they don’t want to live with a little cancer. As a nurse I will still recommend that women get their mammogram annually after age 40. I hope that insurance companies continue to pay for this valuable preventive test that can & has saved many lives.

Gary Schwitzer

December 23, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for your note.
As I try to remind visitors to this blog, the purpose of the site is to review the quality of journalism. We believe it is imbalanced for a news story to present only one well-known person’s view of this issue. That’s why we blogged about the AP story – not to re-open the rhetoric over the task force’s recommendations.
With all due respect, I don’t think you can say “it’s safe to say most women can live with a little anxiety” unless you have data to back that up.
For example, I’ve interviewed several dozen women who got a diagnosis of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) after having mammograms. The anxiety they told me they had to deal with was not trivial.
I react strongly to any claim of what “most women” think if no evidence is given to support that claim.

Gregory D. Pawelski

December 23, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Rather than explaining the science behind the recommendation, the news media exploited the politics of it. The press has succeeded in sowing seeds of confusion and doubt.

David Forbes

December 24, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Most so called “main stream” journalism seems to be selling the sizzle and not the steak. It’s what keeps the buzz going and the advertisers happy. Celebrity is just a convenient platform to launch a story.
To a large degree, the consumers of news are to blame as well. Most people would rather get (and sadly trust more) their information filtered through a celebrity than from a well researched report.