Marketing Through Television Programming
According to the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), a large number of medical and health programs on three major cable channels in Korea—Hankyung WOW, MBN, and Medical TV—have become marketing tools for private clinics and for physicians trying to attract patients.1 The coalition says that the programs repeatedly portray the same physicians and place too much emphasis on aesthetic, dental, and other expensive procedures.

A CCEJ representative—whose name is not disclosed—says television directors should be more socially responsible by providing useful health information to viewers.

“Cable programs offering health and medical information have become popular with television viewers because of the well-being trend,” the representative says. “But they have focused mainly on advertising certain clinics and doctors rather than distributing helpful information.”

The group says that in a recent program that aired on MBN, the host praised a laser-beam dental treatment for its effectiveness and safety without providing verification, giving viewers the false impression that the technique is superior to others. In June, the program also touted an aesthetic surgery procedure using high-frequency waves for young women who want to have slim legs for the summer.

Medical TV aired similar programs, including an interview with a physician who introduced his treatment facilities and shared positive responses from his patients about his treatments. The channel also repeatedly aired aesthetic surgery shows that provided information on improving people’s looks rather than on restoring the appearance of people hurt in accidents.

CCEJ says the shows carelessly describe the surgeries as safe and quick without elaborating on their costs and potential side effects.

The representative has called on the medical and health cable companies to diversify their programs, and to provide more useful medical information, a wider range of treatment options, and information on preventing poor health.

Similarly, an American plastic surgeon alleges that popular television shows in the United States, such as Extreme Makeover, The Swan, and I Want a Famous Face, trivialize plastic surgery, minimize its real risks, and set unrealistic expectations for the viewers.2

According to Laurie A. Casas, MD, associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and communications chair of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, these shows are a disservice to the patients because they “gloss over” the risks and benefits of the procedures and give no sense of the length of the surgery or the postoperative course.

“As a result, the public walks away with the impression that cosmetic surgery is no big deal,” Casas says. “If it were [actual] “reality” television, it would explain that as consumers, there are options in physicians, locations for surgery, procedures, and the timing of procedures.”

Plastic surgeons warn that viewers of these television shows who undergo a radical makeover and expect to wake up with a fairy-tale ending will be extremely disappointed.

1. Hyo-sik L. Medical TV programs under fire. The Korea Times. Insert available at:
. Accessed July 10, 2006.

2. Mann D. Is the new wave of plastic surgery shows too good or too bad to be true? WebMD. Available at: . Accessed July 10, 2006.

Study Reports No Cancer Risk From Breast Implants
A study in the April issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that having breast implants is not associated with an increased risk of cancer.1 The authors found that implants were associated with a decrease in breast-cancer cases, but an increase in lung-cancer cases.

“In this study of almost 3,500 Swedish women who underwent breast augmentation between 1965 and 1993 with a mean follow-up of over 18 years, the incidence of breast cancer was below the statistically predicted value,” says Loren S. Schechter, MD, FACS, of Morton Grove, Ill. “Interestingly, the incidence of lung cancer was two to three times the predicted value. This study illustrates the importance of understanding the difference between correlation and causation.”

The authors note the “high prevalence of smoking” among Swedish women with breast implants. It is likely that the increased incidence of lung cancer in this patient population is related to the increased incidence of smoking in these women, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship between breast implants and lung cancer. This underscores the importance of critically reviewing the literature rather than relying on sensationalized media reports.

The study, conducted by Joseph K. Mclaughlin, PhD, and his colleagues at the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockville, Md, and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn, was the longest follow-up study on aesthetic breast implants and risk of cancer incidence to date. Previous investigations looked at the health effects over a shorter time period, typically less than 10 years, and have been too small to evaluate uncommon diseases. Earlier reports also did not include detailed information about types of implants or risk factors affecting health, such as medical history, screening practices, and lifestyle behaviors—all of which are included in the current study.

The authors identified 180 cancers in women with breast implants, fewer than the 193 predicted to occur in this population. They also noted a decrease in the incidence of breast cancer (53 cases observed, 71.9 cases expected).

McLaughlin says he was not surprised to find that the women with implants had a decreased risk of breast cancer.

“They tend to be thin, have smaller breasts, and have children at a younger age. And all of these things are associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer,” he says.

McLaughlin adds that this is one in a series of reassuring study results that shows that there is no credible evidence to indicate an excess risk of any form of cancer due to breast implantation.

1. McLaughlin JK, Lipworth L, Fryzek JP, Ye W, Tarone RE, Nyrun O. Long-term cancer risk among swedish women with cosmetic breast implants: An update of a nationwide study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006;98:557–560.