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Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

Dr. Kate Scannell: Angelina Jolie, breast cancer and genetic testing's Myriad obstacles

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 05/26/2013

On May 14, The New York Times published a moving essay by Angelina Jolie in which the actor revealed she had undergone a double mastectomy -- even though she did not have breast cancer. However, Jolie was aware that she had inherited a genetic mutationthat increased her risk of developing breast cancer to about 87 percent. That mutation, associated with a "BRCA gene," additionally upped her chances for developing ovarian cancer to about 50 percent. Facing such grim odds, Jolie decided to be proactive and minimize those risks by having her breasts and ovaries surgically removed.  Read More 

Dr. Kate Scannell: Irrational optimism has a long history in medical coverage

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 05/10/2013

The news in the Cincinnati Enquirer sounded dreadful. Someone who'd been suffering from "pulmonary peritonitis" had "died suddenly of pleurisy of the brain." Equally distressing, the Chicago Record-Herald reported that a man, following six gunshots and defying anatomy, died from "shock and lumbar pneumonia."And sadly (or at least I think so), according to an Erie, Pa., newspaper, three surgeons opined that a man "would always be a sufferer from chromatic epilepsy."

These and other examples of "misinforming and even ludicrous" medical journalism were colorfully recounted fully 100 years ago in the April 19, 1913, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Clearly, the physician-editorialist was annoyed by such careless health reporting. And when it came to inaccurate or misleading news that could actually harm people, he was outright incensed. He railed against "sensational newspaper articles concerning cancer and tuberculosis cures, some of which at least soon prove to be the rankest fakes."

It's always interesting -- although often unsettling -- to look back at physicians' critical writings about media coverage of science and public health. It's interesting partly because so many of those criticisms remain unchanged well beyond a century later. And it's often unsettling because ... well, so many of those criticisms remain unchanged over so long a time.  Read More