Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Celebrity Endorsements for Cancer Screening

After a brief lull, things are getting interesting again....
Just out in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is an article by the VA Outcomes Group from Vermont about celebrity endorsements of cancer screening. Briefly, the results of the study survey showed that about two-thirds of respondents recalled seeing particular celebrities endorsing cancer screening (e.g., men older than 50 were asked about seeing Norman Schwarzkpopf endorsing PSA screening for prostate cancer). Of those who recalled seeing a particular celebrity, about a quarter said that this exposure made them more likely to get screened.
The problems here are that decisions about cancer screening are sometimes complex, and it isn't always completely obvious that celebrity endorsed screening should be universal. In particular, there is quite a bit of doubt that PSA screening is generally beneficial. Yet celebrity endorsements "typically consist of one-sided messages that either assert that the celebrity's life was saved by a cancer screening test ... or suggest that the life of a loved one was lost due to failure to be screened."
The article concludes, "when it comes to communicating about complex decisions such as cancer screening, the goal should not be to persuade but to inform. Thus, we see no obvious role for celebrity endorsement of cancer screening."
But of course it is the poor primary care physician who will be stuck with the task of informing patients that the simplistic message they saw about screening on TV may not be the whole story. Caught in the cross-fire once again.

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