Msnowe's Blog


Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on November 18, 2009

Blue footed or no.

Okay, less about boobies and more about breast cancer prevention and treatment. This NYT article highlights the US Preventative Services Task Force’s decision to raise the age of yearly mammograms to 50 years of age for women without major risk factors (which is up from the previous suggestion of 40 yrs old).

The ten-year difference in recommended testing for women hinges around the group’s claim that new data shows that testing later will actually reduce “potential harm from overscreening.”

While the arguments could be rationalized on both sides, this paragraph was particularly galling:

“While many women do not think a screening test can be harmful, medical experts say the risks are real. A test can trigger unnecessary further tests, like biopsies, that can create extreme anxiety. And mammograms can find cancers that grow so slowly that they never would be noticed in a woman’s lifetime, resulting in unnecessary treatment.”

Okay. Extreme anxiety is a real thing. But m.snowe finds it hard to call that an excuse against testing for one the top killers of women in America. And m.snowe finds it hard to believe that any medical professional would urge any patient to actually know less about what’s going on inside their bodies. Also, the implied perception that women somehow can’t handle the knowledge harkens back to the days when a man would consult their wife’s physician for a report, as if they were children.

Aside from any sociological/gender issues, how exactly does any panel evaluate the threshold for what constitutes the value of a single life saved? This is a large question that really applies to any scientific study of a similar skein. Well, this study decided that one prevented death per 1,904 women between the ages of 40-49 just wasn’t worth the hassle of testing all women of that age group. That’s fine, until you’re that one woman, I suppose. And anyone can be that woman.

m.snowe would probably be more apt to accept the study’s conclusion if other independent organizations working for better cancer treatment were also in line with the findings. Both the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology are sticking with 40.

“The guidelines are not expected to have an immediate effect on insurance coverage but should make health plans less likely to aggressively prompt women in their 40s to have mammograms and older women to have the test annually.”

If a government agency is producing guidelines, as an insurance company, you would do your best to use that to your advantage in terms of lowering costs, and restricting “unnecessary” testing. Despite what people think about universal healthcare, government-funded panels like this already dictate much of our healthcare practices.