Celebrity colonoscopy parties – great fun ‘every other year’?

Gary Schwitzer is founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org.  He is a sucker for almost anything that Steve Martin, Martin Short and Tom Hanks do onscreen. But what they do offscreen with their colons is another matter. @garyschwitzer on Twitter.

Celebrity news about health care choices is often fraught with misinformation.

Celebrity news about screening tests may be the leading category of such misinformation.

Titillating tidbits about the stars, but there’s potential harm if the take-home message to readers is “Gee, maybe you should do what these smart, rich people are doing.”

Enter People magazine, which – amidst news about Meghan Markle, Rihanna, Demi Lovato, Eva Longoria – last week published online the article you see at right. It was a cheap article for People – really just a shortened transcript of a recent Jimmy Kimmel TV show.

In the first line is the news that actors Steve Martin, Martin Short and Tom Hanks “have a ‘colonoscopy party’ every other year to make sure that everything is working right down below.”

The piece is funny, with Martin Short quotes lighting up the screen.

But laughing about the stars’ “every other year” colonoscopies is no laughing matter.  There isn’t an evidence-based recommendation on the planet that supports every other year colonoscopies in otherwise healthy people.  Granted, the rich can do whatever they wish. Including having screening tests on a schedule not supported by evidence.  And, in so doing, increasing their risk of harms from the additional screening.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force states:

Harms may arise from the preparation the patient undergoes to have the procedure, the sedation used during the procedure, and the procedure itself.

Evidence is adequate to estimate the harms of colonoscopy. In the United States, perforation of the colon occurs in an estimated 3.8 per 10,000 procedures. Serious complications—defined as deaths attributable to colonoscopy or adverse events requiring hospital admission, including perforation, major bleeding, diverticulitis, severe abdominal pain, and cardiovascular events—are significantly more common, occurring in an estimated 25 per 10,000 procedures.

And in its section on screening intervals, USPSTF discusses intervals of 10 years – not every other year.  And colonoscopy isn’t the only available colon cancer screening test, so any implication that this is the test for the stars is woefully incomplete.

While People magazine is probably not the go-to place for health care journalism, the venerable MedPage Today website is for many people.  Yet, in its Morning Break newsletter, they threw in this:

Really?  What makes this the best celebrity fad ever?

Most of us can’t laugh all the way to the bank like these celebrities.

But neither do we need to cry all the way down the path of serious potential harms from pursuing screening tests far more aggressively and more often than the evidence supports.

Caveat emptor…or, let the star-watchers see through the glitter.


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