Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fuzzy thinking apparently continues in Barcelona

Maria Cheng continues to report on the Barcelona breast cancer conference today: and the topic du jour is the effectiveness of breast cancer screening. In an article practically devoid of anything substantiating, the experts would seem to be arguing that 1) Too many women are being screened for breast cancer, 2) Too much screening is bad because of "false alarms and unneeded biopsies", 3) It really doesn't help the women being screened all that much, and 4) Patients need to be screened prior to being screened for breast cancer. Interestingly enough, there is no discussion reported as how this screening of the screenees would be done. Also absent is any substantiation of the statement that screening doesn't really help that much. I think I need the words "help" and "much" defined a little better here.

There is a statement in the article:

U.S. researchers last year estimated five lives saved per thousand women screened.

If your mother, wife, or daughter were one of the five, would you consider breast cancer screening "not much help"? There are roughly 60 million women in the US over the age of 40. If only 20% of them were being screened, this would be 60,000 lives saved. How in the name of God does this get called "not helping very much"?

But the telling statement comes towards the end of the article:

Jorgensen (Karsten Jorgensen of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen) said screening has become more of a political issue than a medical one. Officials have spent so many years convincing women to get mammograms that it will be difficult to now change policies, especially with a very vocal and powerful breast cancer lobby.

Political? Policies? Obviously, we are several steps away from a doctor advising his female patients, based on their lifestyle, family history, etc. whether they should have a mammogram when they turn 40. This is about money, plain and simple. Health care costs, among other entitlement programs, are driving the European economy into bankruptcy and the medical community meeting in Barcelona is trying to rationalize cutting costs.

In fairness, I am drawing conclusions based on Ms. Cheng's reporting of the Barcelona conference and obviously there is a lot more discussion and information being distributed that I don't have access to. If I am maligning the intent of the conferees, I apologize but will still hold Ms. Cheng to task for bad reporting.

In the interest of full disclosure, my mother died of ovarian cancer and my mother-in-law died of breast cancer. Do I want my wife and daughters to be screened? Absolutely. Would I pay for it myself? Without question. If medicine ever came to a point where they would be denied screening based on a bureaucrat's view as to what was an "acceptable" cost, what can I say? Aux barricades, chers concitoyens

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