Mammograms are not needed for women in their 40s with average cancer risk, according to the US Preventative Services Task Force. This government-funded authority issued new guidelines suggesting screening procedures be dropped even though 40,000 American women die every year from breast cancer. How could they come to this conclusion and does it suggest full-scale health care rationing is on its way?
In addition to advising those in their 40s to forego mammograms, the task force suggests that those ages 50 to 74 skip annual screenings in favor of scheduling them on an every other year basis. At the same time the guidelines advise doctors to stop teaching patients how to perform self-examinations.
Are these the recommendations of a physicians’ group? Were the findings a result of research conducted by the cancer society? No, the guidelines came from a government appointed panel. Even though the examinations could continue to save lives, there are fewer cases of cancer in younger women; so the panel concluded that the costs and patient stress associated with possible false positives did not pencil out in terms of risks versus rewards.
In the last year, $3.3 billion was spent on mammograms. If insurance companies and physicians adhere to the new guidelines, this expenditure will be greatly reduced. But what about the person who does not benefit from early detection? They will be a statistic in the government’s data bank even though they are someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother. The human element is not a factor to the number crunchers, but it is to families.
Our family had a harrowing brush with breast cancer many years ago. It was the fall of 1957 when my mother, then in her early 40s, discovered a lump in her breast. Examinations determined it was cancer, surgery was recommended and a radical mastectomy was performed. Afterward, a series of deep x-ray treatments followed, which made mom extremely ill; however, she fought through the discomfort and received the recommended dosage. In those days the survival rates were pretty low, but my mother beat the cancer and died, just a few years ago, from natural causes at the age of ninety. Had it not been for early detection and treatment, she would not have enjoyed all those years and we would have missed the joy of her presence. This is our family’s story, but there are thousands and thousands of success stories with one thing in common: early detection saves lives.
The task force issuing the guidelines was appointed by the previous administration, but such panels will become more powerful as the government becomes more involved in running the nation’s health care system. Therefore, the concern is not about one set of guidelines for one deadly disease. It’s about who has control over our health care decisions. This is troubling to all of us, particularly pre-boomers on Medicare, because it could signal the beginning of rationing and the end of quality health care as we know it.
Health Care MOM
Don Potter, a Philadelphia native, was born in 1936 and is a 50 year veteran of the advertising agency business. Now living in Los Angeles, he has written two novels in retirement, frequently writes on marketing issues, and has a blog dedicated to pre-boomers (those born between 1930 and 1945).