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Competing, conflicting headlines don't help on prostate cancer screening study stories

Competing, conflicting headlines don't help on prostate cancer screening study stories

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An updated analysis of the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is receiving a lot of news attention.

And the competing, conflicting headlines are as clear as mud.

In one corner, wearing the black-and-white trunks, and weighing in with a predominantly positive message:

In the other corner, wearing the grey (area) trunks, and weighing in with more skeptical messages right up front:

To be clear – more clear than these headlines, at least – most of these stories got the message generally right in the body of the story.

But we all know that in today's news-numbing-barrage, many people – myself included – may not make it past the headline depending on what the headline says. The headlines matter.

And you can't have it both ways: one saying "reduces death" and another saying "isn't saving lives." Screening messages are confusing enough for the general public; journalism shouldn't make it even harder to decipher.

The final line of the NEJM article is this: More information on the balance of benefits and adverse effects, as well as the cost-effectiveness, of prostate-cancer screening is needed before general recommendations can be made. Maybe that should have received a little more attention.

(photo credit: Magharebia via

Related content:

Two noteworthy screening decision-making op-ed pieces on same day

"I Want My Prostate Back" article wins 2011 American Society of Magazine Editors award

Excellent PBS NewsHour segment on prostate cancer screening

Thoughtful analysis of the USPSTF and prostate cancer screening

Excellent NY Times piece on cancer screening

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