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Men Ill-Served By Coverage Of Prostate Screening

National Screening Unit
Monday, 14 April 2008

Australian Men Ill-Served By Media Coverage Of Prostate Screening

A study of Australian newspaper and television stories about screening for prostate cancer has found the vast majority aggressively promote it, ignoring the almost complete absence of evidence that it would save lives.

An Australian researcher from the University of Sydney, Professor Simon Chapman, told the National Screening Symposium in Wellington today that an examination of newspapers across Australia and television news in Sydney over almost four years found 86 percent of all quotes framed prostate screening and its outcomes as desirable.

He said this was despite the fact that no government endorses prostate cancer screening and all major reviews of the evidence have declared there is insufficient evidence that it saves lives.

“We found the often serious adverse effects of unnecessary prostate surgery following screening, such as urinary incontinence and impotence, were minimised in the stories,” Professor Chapman told the delegates. “Appeals were made on the basis of gender equity – that is, women are screened for cervical and breast cancer why not men for prostate cancer?”

Professor Chapman said that people questioning such screening were vilified in news stories, and misleading statements were found in crucial areas of information: the number of deaths from prostate cancer, which and how many experts supported routine screening, the accuracy of the current method of screening and the effectiveness of screening in preventing prostate cancer deaths.

“In Australia, we have a number of strongly motivated groups who want to see routine prostate screening introduced. Among them are survivors of prostate cancer who say ‘it was found in me early and I survived, therefore early detection must be a good thing’. These groups are very aggressively pushing the campaign to have prostate screening introduced.

“The second reason Australian news media seem to show such bias toward prostate screening is that the survivors make good copy. If you have someone with what we call ‘survivor joie de vivre’, bursting with enthusiasm about screening and perhaps in addition the survivor is high profile, like a rock musician or MP, it creates a very compelling story.

“This means Australian men are exposed to largely unbalanced appeals lacking evidence to seek prostate testing, and there is a disturbing lack of effort by the media to redress that imbalance,” Professor Chapman said.


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