A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The ‘Kylie effect’ – when women rushed to get checked for breast cancer after Ms Minogue was diagnosed with it in 2005 – was a perfect example of that.

Dr Minogue at your service. Pic: AP

Here’s how it goes: Young Kylie talks about her cancer. Women everywhere rush to get tested thanks to the hyperawareness created and some lives are saved. Kylie gets awarded a doctorate for her work promoting breast cancer awareness

But other women are unnecessarily exposed to radiation or given invasive treatment because of ‘false positives’ – an imperfect system accidentally finds they have cancer, but they don’t. Younger women flock to get tested, although age is the biggest risk factor.

One study found “over-diagnosis” of breast cancer meant one in three women ‘diagnosed’ had treatments - such as mastectomies and radiation – that they didn’t need (there are similar issues around prostate cancer checks).

Then there were the thermal imaging clinics that cropped up, which marketed themselves to younger women suffering the Kylie effect, offering ‘early detection’, when in fact – according to the NHMRC’s draft report –  “there is no compelling evidence to demonstrate that it is effective for early detection or screening.”

So women got unnecessarily fearful, had a dodgy check, and maybe got a false all clear.

Good intentions, imperfect outcome. In today’s British Medical Journal two experts go head to head on the Kylie factor. The University of Sydney’s Simon Chapman says celebrities can bring a personal authenticity to the debate and just because sometimes it goes wrong doesn’t mean it always will. City University London honorary research fellow Geof Rayner says the fleeting spotlight isn’t worth it.

He points out, rightly, that celebrities are far more often pushing rubbish diets, wacky beauty techniques, and a consumerist lifestyle that is at odds with public health goals.

I’ll leave the Kylie effect here, because I just remembered I already had a crack at her here.

Let’s get back to a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Messages now often come to us from celebrities and we lap it up as part of our vacuous worship of all things famous.

The PR companies know that we’re suckers for it; that we somehow connect fame to truthiness, or we’re so befuddled by our aspirations that we forget how to think rationally and before you know it we’re forking out gazillions for moisturiser made from frog sperm because someone from the movies said it was good.

As Professor Rayner points out, Gwyneth Paltrow successfully sells her fans all manner of healthy sounding woo woo, including her “widely promoted colon cleansing routines”.

Celebrities are brands; not experts. They can use their power for good or for evil. They are, often, paid to spruik a certain message. Other times they nobly use personal experience to throw their clear-skinned weight behind a cause.

Some famous people are super smart, and many have important and valid ways in which they can add to the national debate. Others are not so bright, and can be seriously misled on how the world works.

We need to bear in mind that just because they rock a perfectly cut suit, mesmerise us on the big screen, or have seemingly miraculous hair, the famous people don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about. We need to remember that experts are called that for a reason; because a working knowledge of Wikipedia does equate to years of study.

If an actor is telling you something is true, just find out whether they actually know what they are talking about or have a bloody good director.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

Most commented


Show oldest | newest first

    • Troy says:

      09:00am | 26/09/12

      So so are you telling me Cate is not a climate change expert then?

    • nihonin says:

      09:34am | 26/09/12

      Cate, most certainly is, otherwise the government wouldn’t have paid her nor Michael to appear the advertisements….......would they?

    • Anne71 says:

      12:35pm | 26/09/12

      No, she isn’t. But, on the other hand, neither is Alan Jones.

    • James says:

      12:46pm | 26/09/12

      No, but she listens to experts and has formed a considered opinion based on that.

      I would rather listen to her views on it rather than say…. a shock jock that makes figures up and promotes Lord Monckton’s views.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      01:42pm | 26/09/12

      I am not so sure. This is a woman who endorsed some skin cream because she was convinced it “works”, not you know just make easy money like everyone else. I think our lovely Cate is a tad overrated, including in the acting department.

      The whole celebrity thing is a scam. Celebrity gets ill, some charity pulls out all the stops to link itself to celebrity, celebrity possibly complies, a few docs get on board (the yearly examination is after all a recent invention) and so on. Ah modern advertising, you rock.

      Add to this the fact that statistics include breast cancers that may result in old age, result due to HRT, cases of DCIS who are also treated as survivors and the study that mammograms do not always improve mortality rates in the under 50s and its a confusing picture which a simple scan may not address.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      02:03pm | 26/09/12

      And of yes there are a few studies that suggest a link between alcohol and breast cancer. But there’s rarely a media beat up about it. We don’t seem to be having a Temperance Day to beat cancer grin Pink alcohol bottle badges anyone?!

    • suboticBoy says:

      02:23pm | 26/09/12

      And of yes there are a few studies that suggest a link between being alive and every bloody cancer possible on god’s green earth. But there’s rarely a media beat up about it….

    • SydneyCellGirl says:

      02:37pm | 26/09/12

      Lol, its them damn cells!

    • Scotchfinger says:

      02:39pm | 26/09/12

      I personally like to support breasts in every way I can wink
      It’s my duty, my burden and my cross to bear. In some people’s eyes I am a hero, but… whatever. I hate labels.

    • suboticCellBoy says:

      02:53pm | 26/09/12

      I like Kylie’s collective posterior cell arrangement.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      03:08pm | 26/09/12

      Subotic I bet, especially encased in gold.

      I see its ScotchFingers Secret. Or is it a whole handful you are after?!

    • Scotchfinger says:

      03:31pm | 26/09/12

      sorry I always seem to be lowering the tone.

    • subotic B. Sparxxx says:

      03:47pm | 26/09/12

      You can lower it further Scotchy by some more “Booty Appreciation”.

      A quick search on YouTube for “Miss New Booty” should do the trick…

      Thanks Bubba!

    • SydneyGirl says:

      03:50pm | 26/09/12


      A lowered tone enlivens a discussion - makes it a bit more lively, no?!

    • Rose says:

      09:13am | 26/09/12

      Famous people can be useful to start the conversation, Kylie gets breast cancer so young women start checking their breasts for irregularities, that is a good thing. What needs to happen though is that once the conversation has started the experts need to take over. Much like Jimmy Barnes’ efforts in the north of Adelaide. He wrote a letter to The Advertiser, outlining his concerns for the area, he then bowed out (I think he may have done a free concert, but I can’t remember exactly). What he effectively did was highlight the problems he saw, acknowledged that he had neither the power nor the knowledge or capacity to fix them, but he got some action happening. The problems are no where near solved, and the success was limited, mostly by a lack of resources and political will, but there was a start made.
      Celebrities are not experts, they are high profile people but they are not necessarily any more switched on than any one else, but if their profile can get others talking, maybe it’s a good thing.
      The risk is that people just believe everything they say, especially ridiculous when most have the internet and have access to plenty of information which proves how wrong some of their ideas are, particularly in terms of health and diet.

    • James says:

      12:11pm | 26/09/12

      Rose makes perfect sense. More sense than the article itself.

    • andrew says:

      09:14am | 26/09/12

      i remember seeing adds promoting full body (head, chest and abdomen) CT scans to screen for cancers in patients without symptoms - we are not allowed to do them on patients under 50 years of age without informing them that we are more likely to cause a cancer than we are to find one.

      Fellow radiographers tell me that since breast screen encourages women to have mammograms every 2 years between the ages of 50 and 70 , women reach the age of 70 and assume they can stop worrying about breast cancer - when the opposite is in fact true. I do believe though that the younger a breast cancer sufferer is the more likely the cancer is to be an aggressive one.

    • Kika says:

      10:57am | 26/09/12

      You would be right with that too - I think that’s correct - younger breast cancers are usually more aggressive because the breasts are firmer and lumps can hide much better for much longer.

    • Budz says:

      09:20am | 26/09/12

      You mean Kim Kardashian isn’t selling diet products for the reason of helping other people? And saying how great it is even though she doesn’t use them?

    • PJ says:

      09:23am | 26/09/12

      Way to under sell ‘some lives get saved’

    • Freeman says:

      09:34am | 26/09/12

      “We need to bear in mind that just because they rock a perfectly cut suit, mesmerise us on the big screen, or have seemingly miraculous hair, the famous people don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about.”

      Yep; Celebs are full of advice on Parenting, AGW, War, Politics in gereral, all of which should be ignored. But this is now Tory’s 2nd (or 3rd?) column denouncing Kylie Minogue for promoting awareness of a leading killer of Australians.

      If Kylie was actually practicing medicine with her fake degree Tory would be justified in singling her out. Methinks Tory just doesn’t like Kylie.

    • BC survivor says:

      10:57am | 26/09/12

      <<If Kylie was actually practicing medicine with her fake degree Tory would be justified in singling her out. Methinks Tory just doesn’t like Kylie>>
      Kylie only stated that you should conduct self examination each month and IF you found anything suspicious to seek medical advice.  She did not advocate or endorse or even ask for young women to run of and get a mammogram.
      It may be called the “Kylie effect” for what happened at the time, as the media was inundating us with “what will happen next to Kylie”  - but it was not a Kylie’s insistence or endorsement.
      If I remember correctly - she was head down arse up in Chemo, surgery etc.

    • Marius says:

      09:42am | 26/09/12

      No, she isn’t, but unlike the Jenny McCarthys of the world, or any of the other vacuous celebs, Blanchett’s opinion is supported by a vast body of evidence.

    • Alex says:

      10:00am | 26/09/12

      The fact this even needs to be said is an indictment on media. The ‘market-forces’ approach to media means that you must have entertainment. It’s all about what people want to see isn’t it? So instead of experts talking to us, who are just plain boring, let’s get celebrities. In fact, let’s get anyone who is attractive and funny and just call them a ‘commentator’. Hence you get ridiculous scenarios like on Q&A with Catherine Deveny mocking Bishop Jensen. Were they trying to get a reasoned debate? Were they going for comedy? Who cares, they were just going for sets of eyes watching Q&A of course, because that’s all that matters.

    • Mahhrat says:

      10:03am | 26/09/12

      Exactly why advertising - and celebrities are a part of the advertising industry, make no mistake - needs tighter regulations than it already has.

      It is a psychology; the art of getting you parted with your income.  That is ALL it is.

      You, me, nobody can fight it all.  I can’t fight it all, because I’m human and I’m not perfect.  I cannot shield my daughter from everything.  I can’t shield myself!

      I have the ADO to protect me from the Kumarians.  I have a police force to protect me from the Clarendon Valiens.  I have a hospital to keep me protected from the ‘flu, and a Council to protect me from garbage.

      We need something to protect us from the never ending assault on our psyche that is organised advertising (aka PR).  From the top down, if you please.

    • Michael says:

      12:43pm | 26/09/12

      Some call it awareness or enlightenment.

      Freedom from the need to define yourself frees you from being defined by others also.

      Freedom from the need for approval of self and others relieves the discomfort of self disapproval and disapproval of others.

      Just be, Mahhrat. don’t be something, just be. You can achieve this because you are human.

    • subotic ® says:

      02:25pm | 26/09/12

      Some call it snake oil.

      Just be fooled Michael. Just be fooled….

    • Michael says:

      02:49pm | 26/09/12

      Subotic, i don’t necessarily experience the reality that you define for yourself, you however, do.

    • subotic's reality, isn't says:

      03:45pm | 26/09/12

      How do you know I’m really real, Michael?

      And how do I know you’re real either?

      As for Mahhrat, well…..

    • Alex says:

      10:06am | 26/09/12

      What we need to be encouraging is good education, and people actually listening to information that is already in the public sphere. Adults just prove they are little children if they need a famous person in a costume jumping up and down and reminding them to do good things.

    • Miles Heffernan says:

      10:12am | 26/09/12

      C’mon T2 if you had to have just one more crack at Kylie, what would it say?

      The law of unintended consequences at play combined with uber cautious medicos using the “better out than in” principle, scarring and even harming someone’s personal or gender identity that remains long after nuclear medicine or the surgeon’s scalpel has left the building.

    • Two Sugars says:

      10:26am | 26/09/12

      Yet ANOTHER slow day in the public service Ahaharat!!!
      Your Australian taxpayer dollars at work.
      Cappuccino, anyone?

    • nihonin says:

      10:39am | 26/09/12

      Dr. Kylie, I’m ready for my prostate examination.  smile

      What she’s not that type of doctor, bugger, well the offer still stands.

    • Mouse says:

      11:23am | 26/09/12

      OK nihonin,,,ready?  Stand up straight,  look to the left and cough.  There you are,  all done, come back and see me next week…...  hehehehe   ;o)

    • nihonin says:

      12:00pm | 26/09/12

      Oh indeed I shall Mouse, that was exhilarating, but next time can you ice your hand first.  wink

    • Anne71 says:

      12:38pm | 26/09/12

      Think warm thoughts, Nihonin! wink

    • nihonin says:

      02:02pm | 26/09/12

      I’ll have to wait till I’m alone for that Anne71 lol

    • Mouse says:

      04:16pm | 26/09/12

      hahahaha Anne71, don’t give nihonin any more ideas!!

      OK nihonin,anything for a friend, so not only ice but my special rubber glove, better practice touching those toes fella!  RFLMAO :oD

    • nihonin says:

      05:23pm | 26/09/12

      You naughty Mouse!  wink

    • Mouse says:

      07:44pm | 26/09/12

      *smiles and takes a bow*

    • Don says:

      10:43am | 26/09/12

      I am not one who really gives too ****s about what celebrities do or get up to. I think you misread their influence or the types of people who are influenced by them.

    • Kika says:

      10:44am | 26/09/12

      They say knowledge is power and if they save 1 life than that makes it worth it, right? An ultrasound every now and then ins’t going to kill you. Air hostesses and stewards and pilots are subject to more because of living life in an aeroplane and are subject to cosmic radiation and DO have a higher chance of developing breast cancer. But for the rest of us who have an ultrasound once every few years our exposure is low.  Think of all the pregnant women getting ultrasounds every few months!

      As for the people undertaking surgery for false positives and things I think it’s better safe than sorry, right? I’d rather have removed something possibly dangerous than ignore it and wait for it to turn malignant.

    • andrew says:

      11:17am | 26/09/12

      just to clear this up - ultrasound has no known negative side effects when used medically, it is low energy. X rays (including mammograms), CT and nuclear medicine scans use higher energy radiation that can cause genetic mutations and cancers.

      We could remove every adult’s appendix, gallbladder, spleen, uterus, ovaries, cervix, breasts,prostate and testicles and part of the bowel just to be sure they don’t get cancer in those parts, however the risks are greater than the benefits. I’d rather not have any unnecessary surgery thanks - and that includes cosmetic surgery.

    • Mouse says:

      11:42am | 26/09/12

      Kika, pregnant women get ultrasounds that use sound pressure waves that have no known risks to the mother or foetus. Mammograms and CTs, as with all x-rays,  use iodising radiation which can affect DNA and can increase the risk of cancer.
      I suppose that is why ultrasounds are given regularly to pregnant women and mammograms aren’t.

    • Kika says:

      12:16pm | 26/09/12

      Both of you - you are agreeing with me but arguing. My point is every now and then it’s not going to ‘kill you’. It increases your exposure = yes. But not in lethal doses or enough to conclusively prove that it gave you cancer.

    • Two Sugars says:

      01:12pm | 26/09/12

      Your ‘doctorate’ appears to have been written on the same type of paper as the budgie’s.
      Might I suggest, when attempting to make a point in future, that you at least try to add one fact to support it.
      And read this one slowly: ultrasound does not produce any discernible levels of radiation.

    • Mouse says:

      01:19pm | 26/09/12

      *sigh* no-one is arguing with you Kika, just stating the facts.  Prolonged use of anything that uses radiation DOES affect DNA and CAN increase risk to getting cancer.
      Funnily enough, cancer treatment includes numerous CT scans and, less often, MRIs.  Ironic, yes?  :o)

    • Kika says:

      04:39pm | 26/09/12

      Two Sugars - Yes - DISCERNIBLE. The point of the article was about young women having breast checks because of the Kylie phenomena. You can’t have a mammogram if you are young, the breasts are too firm to squish flat. You use an ULTRASOUND to check them. Tory’s point was about subjecting yourself to all sorts of tests and things in case of cancer which is probably more harmful than good for you.

      My point was that ultrasounds (used for younger detection) is safe.

    • Kika says:

      04:39pm | 26/09/12

      @Mouse - I agree. The key word =  PRLONGED.  Occasional medical use = Safe.

    • Two Sugars says:

      06:50pm | 26/09/12

      Ultrasound, as the name implies, is a high frequency SOUND wave.
      No radiation. No side effects of radiation.

    • Kashie says:

      07:04pm | 26/09/12

      Actually my non-medical-expert understanding is that MRI is best for high risk young women because the breast tissue is so dense.  An MRI will take a better picture than mammogram or ultrasound and has no ionising radiation.  But as always, an issue best discussed with your GP who knows you best and should be able to determine what’s the best procedure for your circumstance.

    • Steve says:

      11:01am | 26/09/12

      What about the ‘celebrity experts’ always ready with a media statement and to grab the microphone?  Being a celebrity certainly helps the expert’s career.

      Are they the best experts or just the highest-profile ones?

    • Mark says:

      11:21am | 26/09/12

      I would say the concern here is not celebrities promoting one treatment over another, but with the individual’s who develop an irrational fear because of it. The media surely have a large part to play in this as the coverage they give to celebrities like Kylie is unbalanced.
      The “Kylie Effect” would not exist if it weren’t for the media as the general public would not be bombarded with loaded information on the topic for weeks.

    • Alfie says:

      11:31am | 26/09/12

      Yes…I am concerned about Kylie’s breasts.

    • subotic says:

      02:23pm | 26/09/12

      Amongst other bits of Kylie….

    • SimpleSimon says:

      11:55am | 26/09/12

      I think that the false-positives are worth it for the number of genuine cases caught and treated. I think endorsing diet pills is very different to raising awareness of a particular type of cancer.

    • Amanda says:

      01:47pm | 26/09/12

      Thank God for people like Kylie Minogue, Jane McGrath, Belinda Emmett and Jim Stynes using their public battles with cancer to raise awareness. People do not pay anywhere near enough attention to skin cancer, and as others on the thread have pointed out, Breast Canver is usually far more aggressive in younger women. I remember when Belind Emmett announced that she had been diagnosed - she was 24! General opinion was breast cancer was a “Mum” age disease - middle age certainly. But the fact that Belinda was only a few years iolder than me sacred the bejesus out of me. I think Kylie’s comments were fantastic. Even young women need to be checking their breasts for lumps. I know I wasn’t racing out for a mammogram when I heard, but Belinda’s diagnosis certainly made me start self-checking.
      BTW, I don’t remember Kylie ever declaring herself an expert, or playing up the doctorate.

    • lostinperth says:

      01:55pm | 26/09/12

      Tory, it appears to me that you somehow blame Kylie for having cancer. What someone may or may not have told another person about their individual health issues has nothing to do with Kylie.

      Thoiugh I must agree that “celebrities” get way too much media coverage on issues they know nothing about just because they are celebrities. I call it the Bono effect - some rich tosser trying to tell the world what to do because they can play a guitar.

    • sami says:

      02:21pm | 26/09/12

      I don’t recall Kylie telling anybody to go and get unnecessary tests/scans etc. Tory are you just making things up? Do you really hate Kylie that much that you’re effectively picking on her because she had cancer? Harsh.

    • TRBNGR says:

      04:04pm | 26/09/12

      Does having had cancer make you immune to criticism?

    • Mouse says:

      04:19pm | 26/09/12

      Yes sami, I thought she advised to check your own breasts regularly and if you found anything out of the ordinary to go to your doctor to get it checked.  Great advice I thought!  :o)

    • sami says:

      05:25pm | 26/09/12

      @TRBNGR not at all, but you shouldn’t be criticised for something you haven’t actually done. I hate Nickelback but I don’t go writing articles having a go at them about stuff they haven’t said…

      @Mouse exactly! Sensible advice which we are given anyway, except some people don’t seem to get the message unless something hits too close to home for them. But that’s okay. I see nothing wrong with Kylie advising women to do self checks. Never do I recall her saying to go have a mammogram if you’re 25 years old, for example.

    • Scotchfinger says:

      04:02pm | 26/09/12

      Tory writes: ‘We need to remember that experts are called that for a reason; because a working knowledge of Wikipedia does equate to years of study.’ If only certain Punchers took this advice to heart, it would save a lot of hand-wringing. Be aware of what you are good at - er, will get back to you on that one - and be humble when those with superior knowledge (i.e. Scotchfinger) crush you flat.

    • Mouse says:

      04:22pm | 26/09/12

      OK Scotchie, remind me to never, ever, disagree with you.  Hang on, where’s the fun in that big fella????  LOL ;o)

    • Scotchfinger says:

      04:42pm | 26/09/12

      Mouse, even when you support Tony Abbott I could still happily listen to you (well, read your comments) all day!

    • stephen says:

      04:44pm | 26/09/12

      I don’t mind pop icons finding reasons for being good by telling us to get a bath, a dog, or to walk instead of drive, but now and again I want Brahms, or to hear the sound of my giggling niece, or maybe Byron would do ?
      Pop divas and divettes make popular sounds right through the bandwidth, and if teenagers want to stare at their boobs through the mirror, concerned that if she can get it then maybe the rest of us deserve it, then such attention will take them off the next Kardashian.
      Pop sounds of all kinds are OK, but then, if that lump doesn’t go away, then Pop won’t save you.

    • Mouse says:

      05:04pm | 26/09/12

      hahahahaaaaa, you will regret that sentiment one day Scotchie, especially when I am in one of my space cowboy moods!! lol :o)


Facebook Recommendations

Read all about it

Punch live

Up to the minute Twitter chatter

Recent posts

The latest and greatest

The Punch is moving house

The Punch is moving house

Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…

Nosebleed Section

choice ringside rantings

From: Hasbro, go straight to gaol, do not pass go

Tim says:

They should update other things in the game too. Instead of a get out of jail free card, they should have a Dodgy Lawyer card that not only gets you out of jail straight away but also gives you a fat payout in compensation for daring to arrest you in the first place. Instead of getting a hotel when you… [read more]

From: A guide to summer festivals especially if you wouldn’t go

Kel says:

If you want a festival for older people or for families alike, get amongst the respectable punters at Bluesfest. A truly amazing festival experience to be had of ALL AGES. And all the young "festivalgoers" usually write themselves off on the first night, only to never hear from them again the rest of… [read more]

Gentle jabs to the ribs

Superman needs saving

Superman needs saving

Can somebody please save Superman? He seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. Eighteen months ago,… Read more



Read all about it

Sign up to the free News.com.au newsletter