TV station makes big deal of showing breast exams but ignore evidence

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It's a TV sweeps ratings period, and it's also breast cancer awareness month, so any boob could see this coming.

The Washington Post makes a big deal of the fact that DC station WJLA is making an even bigger deal about:

"...breaking TV's unspoken taboo by showing two women fully exposed on its late-afternoon and evening newscasts."


WJLA acknowledges, however, that the timing of its stories may raise some eyebrows: The reports will air on the first two days of TV's traditional "sweeps" month, a period in which stations air their most eye-catching stories to boost ratings that are used to set advertising rates.

WJLA general manager Bill Lord said he had no qualms about the timing of the reports, or in promoting them beforehand. "People will say we're doing it just for ratings," he said. "But we're a commercial television station -- we're trying to get people to watch us. Yes, this is an attention-getting story, but it's also an important story."

Tell me that even this dramatic viewer warning about their online video isn't meant to titillate:


But the Post story buries the real story, only deep in the story getting to the question of how newsworthy this really is:

"The effectiveness of self-exams as an early cancer-detection method, however, has been questioned in recent years. The National Breast Cancer Coalition says medical studies suggest that the exams are not useful and can lead to "elevated anxiety, more frequent physician visits and unnecessary biopsies of benign lumps."

The American Cancer Society says self-exams play only "a small role" in finding breast cancer. On its Web site, the society says "it's okay not to do [a self examination] or not to do it on a fixed schedule."

At least the Post touched on these issues. The WJLA report never did.

But good luck telling that to a TV news director in the middle of a ratings period.

And good luck trying to talk about evidence (or lack thereof) when a naked breast can give you the bump in the ratings you need so badly.

Now, will they do the same thing for testicular cancer?

1 Comment

A bombshell appeared in JAMA questioning the whole enterprise of breast cancer screening with mammography. Dr Laura Esserman reviewed twenty years of data and concludes that screening the population for breast cancer has significant drawbacks in overdiagnosis and overtreatment, and the expected reduction in advanced cases has not materialized.

Rethinking Screening for Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer
Laura Esserman, MD, MBA; Yiwey Shieh, AB; Ian Thompson, MD
JAMA. 2009;302(15):1685-1692.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on October 30, 2009 2:44 PM.

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