Under 50? Over 75? No mammograms for you!!
This story from the Wall Street Journal is near and dear to my heart, not only figuratively but quite literally. The news broke yesterday that a government task force has announced new federal guidelines for breast cancer screening. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force decided to not continue with their recommendation for yearly mammograms for women 40 and older. They threw those guidelines right out the window. What did they do? Well make sure your jaw won’t hit a sharp object when it drops and keep reading.
Instead of recommending that more women get yearly mammograms, they want less. The new guidelines say that ONLY women age 50 or older and younger than 75 without special risk factors need to get yearly mammograms. Apparently your grandma isn’t worth screening, she’s going to be dead soon anyway, why prolong it? If you’re head isn’t spinning yet, just wait.
Their reasoning behind it? Oh this is a classic case of cost/benefit analysis but only if you live in Bizarro World.
The task force concedes that the benefits of early detection are the same for all women. But according to its review, because there are fewer cases of breast cancer in younger women, it takes 1,904 screenings of women in their 40s to save one life and only 1,339 screenings to do the same among women in their 50s. It therefore concludes that the tests for the first group aren’t valuable, while also noting that screening younger women results in more false positives that lead to unnecessary (but only in retrospect) follow-up tests or biopsies.
WHAT?? ONE LIFE? Well guess what, ONE LIFE could be my mother or your sister, or wife or daughter. Two years ago, my mother, who at the time was 47, had her yearly mammogram. The test results came back and the oncologist said, “There’s a cell cluster, it could be cancer, but we need to do a biopsy to be sure.” The lump was too small for my mom to detect on her own and the only way it would have been spotted was during a mammogram. My mother was terrified! When the test results came back, my dad and I went with her to hear what the doctor had to say. Thankfully, it wasn’t cancer, but it was a cluster of cells that often times indicate that a person has a higher likelihood to developing breast cancer (DCIS). They had removed all the cells in the biopsy and then gave my mother a prescription for tamoxifen, a drug which cuts the risk of breast cancer in half for high risk patients. I understand that now my mother falls into the “at-risk” group. But she didn’t before that day.
Well, what about Grandma? Well, listen, according to this super awesome panel of non-experts in the area of breast cancer notes that the benefits of screening:
“occur only several years after the actual screening test, whereas the percentage of women who survive long enough to benefit decreases with age.” It adds that “women of this age are at much greater risk for dying of other conditions that would not be affected by breast cancer screening.”
Um. Let me compose myself. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME??? They actually say that since granny lived long enough without breast cancer, that they’re going to worry about other conditions. Who gets to pick and choose? My grandma is a very vivacious 73, and you mean to tell me that in two years she’s not worth the yearly screening? That giving her a yearly mammogram just skews the cost/benefit analysis so far off that frankly, her life isn’t worth it? A mother of 8, grandmother of 25 and great-grandmother of 5, isn’t worth the cost of yearly screening. Get used to it folks. This is just the beginning.
Fact of the matter is this, the government is already over stepping their role and now they’re taking even more liberty to tell us, “Meh…you’re just not worth the money, sorry, here’s some pain killers. Good luck.” I know its extreme, but its just a sign of things to come. And if you think THIS is scary, you just wait to see what happens if they pass that preposterous health care bill. How much is your life worth? Well according to the government, its roughly $125, the cost of yearly screening.