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Hollywood’s health screen test

June 25, 2009

Before Farrah Fawcett’s death, she documented her struggles with anal cancer in a documentary that aired on NBC in May.  Before her, British reality TV star Jade Goody documented the last moments of her life during a battle with ovarian cancer.  Before that, the world learned of Sharon Osbourne’s bout with colon cancer on “The Osbournes,” and even before that, Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy on national television while she was still an anchor on the Today Show.

Bass

Bass

Why would someone chose to share their most personal and most painful moments with the country, and the world at large?  According to Temple’s Sarah Bass, a public health professor at the College of Health Professions, it goes back to that old adage, “any publicity is good publicity” – for cancer awareness, that is.

“Any awareness of screening is good as it makes it real to people, especially when pertains to a celebrity that people listen and look up to,” she said.  “I don’t think people who are open to getting screened would think differently about getting tested after seeing someone go through it, but at the same time, someone who hasn’t really thought about getting tested might not think it’s so bad when they see someone like Katie Couric do it or hear someone else talk about it.”

Indeed, Hollywood has certainly been helpful in upping awareness of both breast and prostate cancer.  “Our research with physicians’ perceptions of screening show that these types of cancers are the best known and

Ruzek

Ruzek

patients are more likely to be screened for them, because of media attention,” said Sheryl Burt Ruzek, another of Temple’s public health professors and a co-director of the Risk Communication Lab.  “Many doctors say their patients have never even heard of colorectal cancer until they bring it up, and they wish they weren’t the first ones to have to tell their patients about it.”

And knowledge saves lives: if caught early as by a screening test, most forms of cancer can be treated and not end in fatality. The hope among these researchers is that lesser-known forms of cancer will also one day attain the level of attention as other forms, and media exposure may be the way to do it.

“These types of cancer have been brought to the forefront of the nation’s collective mind,” said Ruzek. “And that’s made screening tests socially acceptable to talk about.”

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