Over on the HealthNewsReview.org website, we've reviewed another example of a journalist giving pro-screening test advice that is not supported by medical evidence.
This time it was the CBS Early Show, using physician-"reporter" Dr. Holly Phillips from WCBS-TV in New York to do a followup on actress Christina Applegate's diagnosis of breast cancer.
We said in that review:
The story engages in disease-mongering in its conclusion: "What's most important is to screen. One in eight women nowadays is going to get a breast cancer in her life, so as long as you get in for screening, I'm happy." The 1 in 8 statistic requires explanation. It is a lifetime incidence estimate. Many women misinterpret this to think that they have 1 in 8 chance right now at this time in their life. It is one of the misused and most misunderstood statistics in health care. The National Cancer Institute estimates that a typical 40-year old woman has less than a 2% (1 in 50) chance of developing breast cancer before 50, and less than a 4% (1 in 25) chance of developing it before age 60.
But the story also states, "But generally, we start home breast exam at age 20. I suggest every month, at the same time of the month, examine your breasts at home and get into your doctor for a breast exam at least every three years, earlier if you can." This is not an evidence-based recommendation and involves a physician-reporter giving personal advice and perhaps forgetting that she is now a reporter.
There is little evidence that breast self-examination (BSE) lowers deaths from breast cancer, and SBEs are not recommended by themselves for detecting breast cancer, especially in higher-risk women.
Experts disagree that mammography screening "should begin at 40", especially for women at low to average risk. See: http://www.annals.org/cgi/reprint/146/7/I-20.pdf .
The story had many of the elements of today's TV health stories:
• a young female celebrity angle
• a young female physician-reporter
• fear and promotable content.
Unfortunately, as with many of today's TV health stories, it also lacked details on evidence.