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Jungle Gemma’s squeeze technique – but will this health advice do more harm than good?

November 15th, 2007

Dr Petra

Coinciding with her appearance on ITV’s ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ ex-Hollyoaks star Gemma Atkinson is backing a new campaign to raise funds for the Everyman cancer charity.

Posing cheekily with a snooker cue in promotional photos Ms Atkinson has clearly been picked to appeal to a young male audience by Rileys pool and snooker clubs who are spearheading the charity drive. Her message is for men to give their balls a squeeze – to encourage guys into regular testicular self examination. And given her popularity with a young male audience (Charlie Brooker describes her as ‘a major figure in the Nuts/Zoo axis of wanking’) the message should get a fair bit of media exposure.

But is this really the right message to be shared with men? What does the evidence say? Well, it doesn’t exactly indicate that regular self examinations are the best way to tackle male genital cancers. So over to my very favourite medic Dr Keith Hopcroft for the science bit.

It’s always difficult to critically evaluate any media health campaign – particularly a charity drive. You don’t want to put people off taking control of their health and you don’t want to be disingenuous to those who are genuinely doing their best to help others.

However, you do have to be careful about giving out health messages if they run counter to current evidence and could mislead people.

In this case it would be better to encourage men to look after their diet, watch how much they drink, cut out smoking, exercise and most crucially if they notice anything that worries them about any aspect of their health they should get to the doc asap. The real sadness with all men’s health initiatives is that men do pay attention to them, they just delay getting to the doctor. And that can be fatal if you do have a serious condition.

We could also do more to flag up the cancers that are equally or more likely to affect men – lung and colorectal cancer in particular. Other health problems like heart disease or stroke also affect men too but don’t get anywhere near the coverage they deserve.

Unfortunately it’s very difficult to get these less glamorous messages into the media – even though they are just as important to the health and wellbeing of men. But then it’s much more difficult to have a sexy star and a raunchy message accompanying a campaign for bowel cancer or similar. (Hey maybe it isn’t, we could have a lovely lady and an ‘up your bum’ slogan – that would work, wouldn’t it?).

Some charities argue if they can highlight one cancer then they can draw in men to hear further health messages, but I don’t think the evidence shows that clearly. Instead I think we have men remaining unaware of the other major health problems they could be facing, but knowing they should check their balls – and being too scared to go and get help if they happen to think something is wrong.

If you have any health worries then speak to your GP. They can reassure you and if anything is wrong the quicker you get seen the quicker you can be treated. Your doctor will have seen it all before so you don’t need to be shy, and you can take a friend, partner or family member with you for support if you need to. If you’d prefer to see a male doctor you can ask for one. Your doctor would rather see you even if it turns out to be a scare just in case there is something more serious going on where you need help. For further information Patient.co.uk is an excellent resource for any health concerns you may have.

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