More prizes for prostates: Tulane promotes PSA testing with football memorabilia, photo-ops

Kevin Lomangino is the managing editor of He tweets as @KLomangino.

Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans is a modern teaching hospital offering the latest innovative treatments from a staff of highly trained experts.

So why do its communications about prostate cancer sound like they were crafted on a bayou backwater that’s 20 years behind the times?

Their PR team is promoting an event called Man Up! Geaux Get Screened, which exhorts local men to sign up for this “quick and relatively painless blood test called a PSA to screen for prostate cancer.”

Painless? Tell that to the thousands of men who’ve been unnecessarily biopsied or operated on based on results from a PSA test.

Here’s a sampling of the event’s marketing pitch — a football-themed guilt trip mixing machismo and memorabilia:

Rickey Jackson knows what it takes to be a man. But it’s more than dominating a football field, winning a Super Bowl or earning his way into the NFL Hall of Fame. Jackson knows being a man means taking care of yourself so you can take care of the people in your life.

That’s why he – along with several other New Orleans Saints legends – is again partnering with Tulane Health System to raise awareness of prostate cancer and provide free PSA screenings to any eligible men.

Jackson, a former NFL linebacker, will apparently be on hand to offer a personal story about his diagnosis and recovery from the disease, and other former players (pictured below) will be available to take photos with attendees and compete in athletic contests.

Attendees will also have the chance to take control of a da Vinci surgery robot courtesy of Intuitive Surgical — which is no doubt eager to stoke demand for more of its costly surgery machines.

And if that’s enough to get men pumped up about PSA testing, they’re even offering a chance to win signed memorabilia to anyone who actually goes through with the screening.

What’s wrong with this message?

There is growing realization that PSA testing for prostate cancer is not something to be entered into lightly — that the very small possibility of lifesaving benefit may be outweighed by the much larger likelihood of suffering mental or physical harm from the test or related treatments.

That’s why just about every major medical society recommends against mass screening events such as this one that typically promote a mindless pro-screening message. Guidelines from the American Urological Association state: “We recommend against organized screening in settings where shared-decision making is not part of routine practice (e.g., health fairs, health system promotions, community organizations).”

The American Cancer Society makes it abundantly clear that PSA testing demands careful consideration from both clinicians and patients, and that it’s not something that should be incentivized with photo-ops and signed footballs. Their guidelines state:

The American Cancer Society (ACS) 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.

A one-page screening fact sheet — buried at the bottom of the Tulane event’s promotional web page — provides no certainty that the men being tested understand the risks and tradeoffs that they are signing on for. Not when it’s competing against a blizzard of marketing brouhaha designed to entice and shame men into getting screened.

We must do better

It’s hard to believe that in 2018, a modern health care facility like Tulane Medical Center could be putting out this kind of coercive, reckless messaging to lure men in for prostate cancer screening. But Tulane is far from the only brand-name institution that resorts to these kinds of promotions.

The event will feature photo ops and signed memorabilia from former New Orleans Saints players.

We saw it from Yale Cancer Center which promoted free screenings with the participation of a local TV weatherman.

We saw it from Roswell Park Cancer Institute which hawked screenings with classic cars and hockey tickets.

We saw it in Atlanta when several radiotherapy centers and the Morehouse School of Medicine offered Atlanta Hawks NBA basketball tickets.

PSA testing is not “quick and relatively painless” — it’s potentially the first step on a long path that will lead to anxiety, more tests, and surgery that carries grave risks — all for a benefit that any individual man may or may not find compelling.

Tulane needs to do a better job of preparing men for this lifelong journey. And that starts by ditching the door prizes and promoting real conversations about the options men have available to them.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, September 8 — plenty of time for Tulane to reconsider this ill-advised promotion and for men to reconsider their screening options.

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