Being interested in the world of health, men’s and women’s, my ears perk up like a fox who hears a hunting horn when NPR’s All Things Considered starts reporting any sort of wellness news. Naturally, in the last few days I keep hearing these reports about how doctors are now going to be recommending that women do not need to have an annual mammogram until the age of 50, rather than the age of 40. Their reasoning: mammograms do more harm than good.
When I heard that statement, mammograms do more harm than good, I thought, “Holy Apollo, really? What kind of badness? Are they toxic? Is this like X-raying your foot when you have it measured?” I was in the car driving to soccer with my boyfriend, and I’m pretty sure I turned the radio up over something he was saying to hear more. Cell phones be damned, NPR is more dangerous to my driving than having a conversation — I was a hungered wildabeast who had to know the latest breast-cancer prevention news.
Apparently, what the harm in mammograms boils down to two things:
1. There are false positives.
2. These false positives lead to biopsies and possible removal of uncancerous lumps of healthy breasts, and an aircraft carrier load of anxiety for the women who undergo these procedures.
Those doctors are pretty smart, you know? I cannot wait for them to start applying this logic to other medical tests. Honestly, when they have recommended that I get that damn AIDS test, I’m incapable of having a thought for the next two weeks while I wait for my results. Talk about anxious. And they have more false positives than false negatives with those things — off with the AIDS test head, I say!
Oh, and pregnancy tests! Those are another source of concern for women and men. My heart-rate becomes audible as I’m waiting for the results of that pleasant experience, whether I’ve peed on a stick or simply had blood drawn. And again, like the AIDS test, pregnancy tests are known to provide false positives. Why put couples (or non couples) through that stressful test at all?
Obviously, these tests are doing more harm than good.
Another point that really galls me is the print-out you get with medication these days that lists all the things you should not do while taking the medication and gives a run down of the side effects. Along with the side effects, there is a comment that reads something akin to this — Remember, your doctor has prescribed this medication to you because he or she has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects. Does not the same hold true for tests? You have the test because the benefit is great than the risk? Wouldn’t you rather have an ambiguous lump removed than wonder if you’re okay? Are there women out there who have had a breast biopsied and thought, “Darn, that was a waste of time?” when they found out it wasn’t cancerous? I think, and I speak with experience not in breasts but in other regions, they were simply relieved. Honestly, my first thought when I heard the why behind doctor’s pushing back the age of mammograms, I sort of thought they were being lazy–or is it the insurance companies that are lazy? If having the mammograms and checking out worrisome areas is not taking up significant time that could be spent on other people, what is the harm?
Granted, I realize that I was born into and raised in the American health care system, and my tendency might always be to be hyper-vigilant and over-treated (and if you add in my hypochondria, I’m a prime candidate to want everything to be checked out), so perhaps I’m making sand castles out of piles of sand here. Still though, based on their analysis of the amount of mammogram harm, any other test is producing the same amount of harm — I find their reasoning to appear fishy and be unsound.
So what is the real reason?