WPIX-TV’s flawed attempt for “prostate cancer awareness month”

Rich Hoffman_67x100.jpgRuth_Lipman_83x70.jpgThe following is a collaborative post written by committee: two of our reviewers who track the prostate cancer literature diligently – Richard Hoffman, MD, and Ruth Lipman, PhD (both of whose bios you can find at: https://www.healthnewsreview.org/who-we-are.php) …with a little input from me.


Sometimes our eyes wander around the country at various media messages.

And this week they settled on a morning show segment on WPIX-TV in New York with “Dr. Steve” – who used to be CNN’s TV doc before they found Sanjay Gupta.

It was WPIX’s chance to promote prostate cancer awareness month.

What does it mean to open a news piece with the information that prostate cancer is “the third most common cause of death from cancer in men of all ages” in the United States? First, it means they are wrong, because it’s actually second, not third. More important, it doesn’t help viewers have any sense about how commonly it actually occurs. Nor does it help viewers understand that the great majority of men with prostate cancer – which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US – actually die of other causes. While increasing awareness about health related issues is conceptually a good idea, giving airtime to unbalanced information is disturbing.

First of all – if you are going to have a urologist speak to the importance of prostate cancer testing (PSA tests) and treatment, you really need to explain that the bulk of a urologist’s work involves testing and treating men for prostate cancer, and then managing side effects of prostate cancer treatment. You could find less conflicted sources.

Next – what exactly does the American Cancer Society say about PSA testing? Not quite what the guest urologist said, which was, “The American Cancer Society recommends that guys at average risk should begin screening at age 50.” Here’s what the ACS actually says on its website:

“The American Cancer Society recommends that men have a chance to make an informed decision with their health care provider about whether to be screened for prostate cancer. The decision should be made after getting information about the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening. Men should not be screened unless they have received this information.”

The real pieces of information that men need to know about prostate cancer are that PSA screening has only a modest benefit in reducing the risk of dying from prostate cancer. Additionally, screening substantially increases the risk of cancer being diagnosed. However, while there are prostate cancers that have the potential to be lethal, many would do no harm even if never treated–and thus don’t need to be found. Active treatment for prostate cancer is not without risk of significant side effects, particularly sexual, urinary, and bowel dysfunction, that can profoundly diminish quality of life. To make an informed decision about prostate cancer treatment, these potential outcomes need to be factored in by the individual man facing a decision.

Lastly – although a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables can be suggested to have all sorts of healthy implications, the data about the role of any of the items in the basket doing anything to change one’s risk of having–or dying from–prostate cancer is tenuous at best.

All in all, the basket of information in this hurried 2 minute, 11 second segment was pretty empty.

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Paul Levy

September 20, 2011 at 10:19 am

Thanks, Gary. I raise a personal question here: http://runningahospital.blogspot.com/2011/09/crowdsourcing-my-psa-test-choice.html