Prof: Mammogram debate is data vs. anecdotes

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

When it comes to the recent news that a government task force opposes routine mammograms for women under 50, the public must balance research with anecdotal evidence, according to a professor who studies how breast cancer is portrayed in the media.

Cynthia Ryan, Ph.D., an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says the media is doing a “decent” job of covering the debate between the new guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and individuals who are advising that women continue to start having mammograms at age 40.

The professor, who has a book coming out about “the rhetoric of breast cancer in popular women’s magazines,” explains why consumers are torn:

Ryan says that when confronted with extreme representations, there is a part of the human brain that wants to go with scientific study “because we figure it must be credible and rational,” she says. “But another part of our brain embraces anecdotal advice that links the message with a face.

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