“Cancer Screening Campaigns — Getting Past Uninformative Persuasion.” By Steven Woloshin, M.D., Lisa M. Schwartz, M.D., William C. Black, M.D., and Barnett S. Kramer, M.D., M.P.H., New England Journal of Medicine

For nearly a century, public health organizations, professional associations, patient advocacy groups, academics, and clinicians largely viewed cancer screening as a simple, safe way to save lives. Public health messages and campaigns reflected and amplified this view, aiming to maximize the population’s uptake of screening. One obvious approach was to use powerful tools of persuasion — including fear, guilt, and a sense of personal responsibility — to convince people to get screened. A simple recipe for persuasion is to make people feel vulnerable and then offer them hope, in the form of a simple strategy for protecting themselves. The standard approach is to induce vulnerability by emphasizing the risk people face, often framing statistics so as to provoke alarm, and then offer hope by exaggerating the benefit (and ignoring or minimizing the harms) of a risk-reducing intervention. Cancer screening ads are common marketing tools, built on hard-hitting messages rather than transparent information.

Source: “Cancer Screening Campaigns — Getting Past Uninformative Persuasion.” By Steven Woloshin, M.D., Lisa M. Schwartz, M.D., William C. Black, M.D., and Barnett S. Kramer, M.D., M.P.H., New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 367:1677-1679 November 1, 2012 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1209407

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