Is Screening and Early Detection Always Good?

Screening technologies for diseases such as prostate and breast cancer are constantly improving. The media eagerly reports stories about new tests and the public devours them because the underlying assumption is that screening can only be good. But this premise is flawed.

Screening results can be ambiguous; they do not necessarily lead to better treatments; and, they can change people’s lives for the worse. Earlier detection can lead people to panic, worry, subject themselves to risky medical procedures, and take medications with serious side effects. Early detection may, in fact, have no effect on mortality but can significantly and permanently alter the quality of life. Messages about medical screening promulgated by journalists are often one-sided and fail to convey the complexity of issues involved.

Speaking before an audience of journalists at Medicine in the Media, Barry Kramer, Director, NIH Office of Medical Applications of Research, warns of the negative implications of prostate cancer screening, and urges journalists to weigh the pros and cons of screening when communicating information to the public.

This impromptu dialogue took place during a 3 day course offered to journalists by the National Institute of Health.

The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Medical Applications of Research (OMAR) presents a free annual training opportunity to help develop journalists’ ability to evaluate and report on medical research. Now in its sixth year, the course curriculum builds on the best of prior years’ offerings to create an intensive learning experience with hands-on application. This year’s course will he held at an idyllic, retreat-like setting near Bethesda, Maryland.

The course examines the challenges and opportunities inherent in the process of communicating the results of medical research to the public. Stressing an evidence-based approach and re-examining intuitive beliefs about medicine, the course will prepare participants for the crucial task of interpreting and evaluating research findings including statistics, selecting stories that hold meaningful messages for the public, and placing them in the appropriate context.

Faculty include prominent experts from the fields of medical research and medical journalism. Sessions will be interactive, with hands-on opportunities to apply lessons learned, and will incorporate journalists’ special perspectives on the public’s need for useful medical knowledge.

We invite application by journalists whose primary target audience is the general public. Applicants may produce news stories about health or healthcare for newspapers, magazines, or newsletters; television or radio; or on-line media. Participants should be eager to develop skills and knowledge necessary for good medical science reporting, but need not have specific experience or background in medical journalism.

There is no cost for the course. All meals and lodging are provided. Participants are responsible for their own travel. Learn more…

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