I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The media are killing women. And ironically, many of the journalists and television producers responsible for this are women.
Case in point: A January 19, 2016 article in Prevention by Sarah Klein entitled, “Why Getting a Mammogram May Cause More Trouble Than it’s Worth.”
First off, do you even really need to read this article to grasp the point the headline is making? It the headline were to read: “Mammograms. Are they worth it?” it would imply more objectivity.
In the article, Klein makes some points that on the surface may seem reasonable. But I will show you why these conclusions really make no sense.
Conclusion 1: Breast cancer deaths are decreasing faster among women younger than 50, who get fewer routine mammograms anyway. Therefore, women under 50 don’t really need mammograms.
Let us not forget that survival statistics tend to lag behind by several years, often as much as a decade. The very reason why these deaths have decreased is because since the late 1990s, women have been encouraged to get mammograms starting at aged 40. Women in this age group who develop breast cancer often are diagnosed with more aggressive forms of cancer. What’s more, the greatest decrease in breast cancer deaths have occurred among women in this age group, as well as 40% of the survival years gained thanks to early detection.
So now, because breast cancer deaths are decreasing among this group, they don’t need screening? Screening is PRECISELY the reason why fewer women aged 40-49 are dying!
Conclusion 2: Younger women don’t need a mammogram because they find slow-moving cancers that aren’t really a threat.
Do mammograms find cancers that would otherwise not threaten the life of a woman? Absolutely. Do women get unnecessary biopsies as a result of mammograms? Of course they do. Do some women opt for aggressive treatment even when there is no evidence compelling them to do so? Yes they do.
But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to know where you stand. Not everyone diagnosed with early stage cancer decides on a prophylactic mastectomy (such as actress Christina Applegate). Many opt for a period of watchful waiting and plan to act when they know their cancer is posing a serious health risk.
As further justification for the uselessness of mammograms, Klein points out that just 16% of low-grade DCIS cases eventually evolve into breast cancer. Does she suggest that we should sacrifice the lives of these 16% because the other 84% won’t die from the same diagnosis? Also, let us not forget that when cancer is found in women under 50, they tend to be more aggressive and deadly, and are not limited to only DCIS cases.
Conclusion 3: “For mammograms to save the life of one woman between 40-49, nearly 2,000 women in that age range need to be screened…”
The way this conclusion is written (and they are the author’s exact words), it seems she is implying that 1,999 women must be “inconvenienced” with breast screening in order to save one poor soul. The implication is that the cost just isn’t worth it.
In 1968, the U.S. government began mandating that all passenger cars be fitted with seat belts. Between 1984 and 1995, all 50 states passed legislation mandating their use. Today, the use of seat belts is attributed to saving an additional 13,000 lives every year. However, there are 210 million licensed drivers in the United States (source: USA Today). By Klein’s logic, 16,153 American’s must wear seat belts to save the life of just one passenger. Isn’t that inconveniencing a hell of a lot of us?
So… do we wear seatbelts because we think their use might save one random life out of 16,000 people out there? Or do we wear it because we think it will save our life?
Only within the “paternalistic” medical establishment, where only your doctor, the media or the government know what’s good for you, do we see arguments like the “1 in 2,000 screenings” emerge.
Unfortunately, this type of irresponsible journalism is never going to stop, and some of the women who are influenced by it are unfortunately going to die. Or did Ms. Klein not consider that possibility before she put her story together?
Just because you can find someone with a twisted opinion doesn’t mean you should build a story around it. And if you feel compelled to do so, at least do the responsible thing and present the opposing point of view to let your readers know that journalists are still compelled by ethical standards to be objective.