Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

My Take On The Mammogram Issue

I was having an interesting Twitter chat with online friends (Liz Cohen @elizcohencnn, Dr. Chuk Onyeije @chukwumaonyeije; Dr. David Gorski @gorskon; Dr. Marya Zilberberg @murzee; Sherry Reynolds @cascadia; and @speakhealth) about the mammogram debate. They asked me “where I drew the line” on paying for expensive screening tests that may save lives but require unnecessary surgery for countless others. My opinion takes into account human nature and political savvy rather than pure science and statistics on this one.

To me, the bottom line is that the mammogram is a sloppy screening test. It’s expensive, there are lots of false positives and unnecessary surgeries, yet it saves occasional lives (which is dramatic and meaningful). We have to appreciate that women have come to accept the risks/benefits of this test, and have been told for a long time that they should begin screening at age 40.

It’s not emotionally or politically possible to reverse course on this recommendation until a better choice is available. You can trade the mammogram for a better test, but you can’t trade it for doing nothing. The amount of drama associated with the perception of having something potentially life-saving taken away is just not worth the cost savings. It may be a reasonable value judgment based on the data, but it’s not politically feasible so we should mentally take it off the table.

Instead we must focus on the search for a better test – something that’s more accurate and less expensive. We will be stuck paying for lots of unnecessary mammograms/biopsies for now, no way around it. But let’s think of it as a temporary predicament – not an eternal waste of resources.

In the end, women should have a nuanced conversation with their doctor about whether or not they are at risk for breast cancer, and make an informed personal decision about when to begin mammography screening. Guidelines are not mandates – though the USPSTF’s well intentioned report would probably have been better left unwritten.

Now let’s fund some serious research into a better screening test!


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »