Do celebrity patients increase cancer awareness?



Kylie_Minogue_2_(2009)Millions suffer from cancer but only the plight of celebrity cancer patients are splashed on the headlines. Below I describe two famous cancer victims and how they influenced actively or inadvertently the public’s view of cancer.

Kylie Minogue
The Australian pop star Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne showed a surge in the demand for breast cancer imaging even for low-risk women 6 months after Minogue’s diagnosis. Here are some of the effects of Minogue’s well-publicized condition:

Good or bad? Further data analyses indicate that among those who tested positive, there were a lot of “false negatives.”

According to study author Dr Margaret Kelaher

“Raising women’s awareness of the need to get screened is a generally good thing. But these findings suggest that thousands of additional imaging procedures and biopsies did not improve breast cancer detection among young women…It appears there has been a situation where publicity has led to many low risk women using – and probably overusing – screening services.”

Jade Goody
Jade Goody died of cervical cancer earlier this year. Her battle with cancer, turned into a reality show, captured the world’s attention and got women scrambling for cervical cancer screening and the HPV vaccine. The heightened interest and awareness in cervical cancer was dubbed the “Jade Goody effect”. Here are some of the changes that the Jade Goody effect brought about:

  • Reexamination of UK’s National Health Services (NHS) cervical screening program which is offered starting at age 25 in England but as early as age 20 in some parts of Britain.
  • Increased interest in and demand for the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, also known as “cervical cancer jab.”

According to The Guardian UK

Sad though the cause, the new interest in cervical cancer has been welcomed by cancer charities and those involved in the screening programme. The proportion of women taking up the invitation to go for a screening test has been steadily dropping for about a decade. The latest figures, from March last year, show 78.6% of eligible women had been tested, which meant that the take-up had dropped below 80% for the third year in a row.

So what do you think? Is cancer publicity through celebrity victims making people panic over nothing? Or does it increase awareness and save lives?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Flickr

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