Australian men are exposed to a disturbing number of media messages promoting prostate cancer screening, despite limited support for screening from health groups, according to a study published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
Prof Simon Chapman and his co-authors from the School of Public Health at The University of Sydney say much media coverage on prostate cancer screening includes inaccurate information, which ignores scientific evidence and the general lack of expert agency support.
"Australian men relying on news media for informed comment on prostate cancer are exposed to an overwhelmingly positive stream of encouragement to seek testing when no country anywhere endorses such screening," Prof Chapman says.
The authors say these media reports rarely contain information on the potential risks of screening and the controversies of treatment.
"Journalists, editors and program producers have huge responsibilities in ensuring the accuracy and balance of information and the reliability of sources they select to communicate with sometimes millions of consumers about matters that can precipitate major life-altering actions," Prof Chapman says.
They suggest that independent health authorities should commission and promote public education and awareness tools to assist men in making these choices.
In a related editorial in the Journal, Professor Robert Gardiner, a urologist from The University of Queensland, and his co-author, Associate Professor Suzanne Steginga, Head of Programs and Research at The Cancer Council Queensland, say the current need is not to develop more decision-making tools, but to promote more widespread use of existing materials and increase community awareness of the issues surrounding prostate cancer.
In addition, they suggest that while there is a need for media spokespeople to ensure that public discussion of prostate cancer includes a balanced representation of the potential benefits and costs of testing, the heavy community and individual burden of this disease calls for a clearly articulated national prostate cancer health strategy.
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.