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Stars Light the Way to Cancer Screening

Celebrity-driven campaigns spurring rise in colon, breast, prostate exams

WEDNESDAY, May 4, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- When celebrities like Katie Couric or Rudolph Giuliani talk about cancer screening, Americans listen, according to a study that finds these star-driven educational campaigns are highly effective in getting people tested.

"There is little question that celebrities can have a powerful impact on the public, and that their influence can be put to good use," concluded researchers at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River, Vt., and Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H.

Their survey of American adults conducted from December 2001 through July 2002 found that 73 percent of women aged 40 and older reported they'd seen or heard celebrities talk about mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Of those women, 25 percent said the celebrity endorsement made them more likely to have a screening mammogram.

The survey also found that 63 percent of men aged 50 and older reported hearing or seeing celebrities talking about prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests for prostate cancer. Of those men, 31 percent said the celebrity endorsement made them more likely to have PSA testing.

In the third category, 52 percent of adults aged 50 and older said they'd seen or heard celebrities promote sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, and 37 percent of those adults said it made them more likely to have one of those screening tests for colorectal cancer.

"Whether to undergo cancer screening is a complex decision -- early detection of cancer will help some people, but it can create problems for others, such as unnecessary testing and treatment," the study authors wrote in the May 4 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

So, while star power can certainly motivate individuals to get screened, the researchers caution that celebrities shouldn't push too hard. "We feel that celebrities should be judicious in using their powers of persuasion. When it comes to communicating about complex decisions such as cancer screening, the goal should not be to persuade but to inform," the authors wrote.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer screening.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, May, 2005
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