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Popular Magazines Offer Little on Cancer Screening for Men


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Men, if you’re juggling the pros and cons of getting screened for prostate or colon cancer, you might as well skip the nearest magazine stand.

A new study from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center says popular magazines aren’t giving men the information they need to make solid, informed decisions about these readily available and potentially life-saving procedures.

The finding, appearing in a recent issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, stands in sharp contrast to the amount and quality of information about breast cancer, a disease that occurs and kills with roughly the same frequency as prostate cancer.

So, what’s up? “Men don’t talk with each other as much as women do – and they certainly don’t feel as comfortable as women talking or reading about health and body functions,” says Dr. Mira Katz, lead author of the study. “On top of that, they don’t visit health care providers as readily, either.”

Katz points out that there has been a tremendous amount of activism around breast cancer. “That’s helped raise money for research and contributed to our progress in the detection and control of the disease. With prostate and colon cancer, it’s an entirely different story.”

Katz, a member of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center-James Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program, says she feels the disparity in the amount and quality of information may help explain why so few men have a firm grasp of both the benefits and the limitations of prostate cancer screening – or why so few men get screened for colon cancer.

Katz and her research team tallied the number of articles on breast, colon and prostate cancer over the last two decades appearing in three magazines with the highest circulation in six categories: African-American, men’s, women’s, news, general and health. They also evaluated the content of the articles that offered “in-depth” coverage of colon or prostate cancer published between 1996 and 2001. (“In depth” was defined as at least two pages of text.)

Researchers felt that in order to be deemed fully informative, articles need to include discussion about screening guidelines, the source of that information, risks involved in screening and potential benefit, harm, alternatives and any uncertainty linked with the procedure.

Over the years 1980-2001, researchers discovered a total of 210 prostate, 181 colon and 637 breast cancer articles. Although there was a greater number of articles on each type of cancer in the 1990s than in the 1980s, articles on breast cancer appeared three times more often.

In examining the content of 40 articles (26 prostate cancer, 14 colon cancer) that offered in-depth treatment over the five years from 1996-2001, researchers discovered that less than a third offered all of the information a reader would need to make a fully informed decision about screening.

The vast majority of the articles recommended the procedures, and interestingly, while the articles on prostate cancer appeared fairly uniformly dispersed across all types of magazines, the articles on colon cancer appeared more frequently in women’s publications.

In addition, a large majority of the articles offered discussion about the benefits of screening for both diseases, but a far lesser number mentioned any potential harm that might come from the procedures. Significantly, discussion about the questionable value of prostate cancer screening was missing in over half of the publications.

“While there are powerful arguments both pro and con regarding screening for prostate cancer, there is virtually no debate over the value of colon cancer screening,” says Katz. “The fecal occult blood test is quick, easy and cheap – and extremely effective.”

Katz says the relative dearth of information about colon cancer screening may also be due, in part, to the lack of comfort talking about that part of the body. “It’s not easy to talk about any part of a rectal exam,” she says.

In further analyzing content, Katz was also able to determine that messages about colon cancer screening may not be reaching men and African Americans who may be reading only magazines geared to their specific populations.

“We know that media, in general, play an important role in shaping readers’ health choices,” says Katz. “But it is important that consumers have all the information they need, not just a part of it. This study gives us some idea of what we need to do to help writers and reporters present a full picture for their readers.”

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center is a network of interdisciplinary research programs with over 200 investigators in 13 colleges across the OSU campus, the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute and Children’s Hospital, in Columbus. OSUCCC members conduct research on the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, generating over $95 million annually in external funding.

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