Note to our followers: Due to a lack of sufficient funding, will cease daily publication of new content at the end of 2018. Publisher Gary Schwitzer and other contributors may post new articles periodically. If you wish to donate, your gift might help keep the site available to the public for a few more years, by defraying costs of web hosting and maintenance. All of our 6,000+ published articles contain lessons to help people improve their critical thinking about health care. Read more about our change in status. And here's how to make a donation.

“Not-so-fine line between empowerment and fear, between awareness and exploitation” on testicular cancer campaigns

Veteran public health reporter André Picard of The Globe and Mail writes, “Sack the hysteria: Men’s shorts aren’t filled with cancer time bombs.”  He also posts this image from one campaign.

Story excerpt:

“Not only are the big organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society starting to take interest in men’s gonads, a bunch of smaller specialized organizations are springing up like Testicular Cancer Canada and Oneball. Having high-profile survivors like Lance Armstrong doesn’t hurt either.

Having a health knowledge of one’s body and being aware of changes that can be revelatory of serious health problems – like lumps, growths and tenderness of the testicles – is important.

After all, it is well-known that men – and young men in particular – tend to avoid dealing with health problems, especially when things are going wrong “down there.” (It is telling that Testicular Cancer Canada was founded by a woman whose partner died of the condition.)

The unfortunate thing, however, is that the new-found mania for the promotion of routine testicular self-examination has no real scientific basis. …

The groups urging the self-testing of testes, unfortunately, seem to be going the same route and not paying much heed to the evidence.

There is a not-so-fine line between empowerment and fear, between awareness and exploitation. At times – and with increasing frequency it seems – the breast cancer movement has crossed those lines.”

As I’ve learned so often, some people are not prepared to hear that message.  Some will always place their personal anecdote on a higher plateau than population-wide evidence. It’s understandable why they do so, but newspaper stories like this are intended to educate readers about evidence and about the tradeoffs involved in any screening decision. Some of the online reader comments in response to Picard’s piece:

  • “You would be singing a different tune if you had testicular cancer. As the mother of a young man who survived I think it is interesting how many people don’t know about testicular cancer. Your point is really ridiculous.”
  • “Shame on Mr. Picard for belittling the importance of men’s cancers…We are supposed to be encouraging men to speak to their doctors about these issues, and not shrouding them in complacency!

I think there’s a great deal of value in newspaper stories discussing some of the silent dangers of awareness campaigns – “false alarms and unnecessary fears.”

As we do often on this site, we remind you that this is not a new issue.  It’s one we’ve written about before, as in this example:


Follow us on Twitter:

and on Facebook.


You might also like


We Welcome Comments. But please note: We will delete comments left by anyone who doesn’t leave an actual first and last name and an actual email address.

We will delete comments that include personal attacks, unfounded allegations, unverified facts, product pitches, or profanity. We will also end any thread of repetitive comments. Comments should primarily discuss the quality (or lack thereof) in journalism or other media messages about health and medicine. This is not intended to be a forum for definitive discussions about medicine or science. Nor is it a forum to share your personal story about a disease or treatment -- your comment must relate to media messages about health care. If your comment doesn't adhere to these policies, we won't post it. Questions? Please see more on our comments policy.

Comments are closed.