Saturday, April 4, 2009

British Still Resist Screening Mammography--Why?

The Empire Strikes Back
The British always want to do less than the Americans (just ask Barak Obama), especially as regards breast cancer screening. Once again I picked up the the New York Times to read another article in which the Brits question the value of mammography. I guess since they lost the statistical and factual debate that mammography actually does save lives (which they resisted for years), they will now draw their limp straws and swing away with anecdote and opinion. The American press continues to support these ruminations as if they have validity which seems odd, doesn't it?

The Hundred Years War
In case you don't know, this argument used to go on constantly. The British have been kicking and screaming and resisting mammography for the better part of thirty years. As late as the 1990's their mammographic screening policy was: one view of each breast every three years! When the data finally settled the case that mammography saves lives they begrudgingly capitulated and now recommend two views of the breast every two-three years. But they still resist. You have to ask your self: Why?

The title of the most recent handmaid tale from Britain in the NYT: Benefits of Mammogram Under Debate in Britain. I'm won't bore you with all the details, but you can trust me on this summation of today's controversy: A woman (let's call her Anecdotal Lady Agatha) underwent a screening mammogram which was positive for cancer.

"She had a lumpectomy but was offered such a confusing array of treatment options that she realized doctors knew little about how aggressively to treat this kind of cancer."

This woman turned out to have a low-grade tumnor (DCIS -- which is not always low-grade)and basically, hers and the the British complaint is that we (Americans) find too many women with breast cancer and some of these women (they admit there is no way to tell which ones before a biopsy) do not need full-on breast cancer therapy, and it is difficult to know how aggressively to treat this particular subset of breast cancer. The British solution? Don't look so hard, and you won't find so many low-grade cancers (nor high-grade cancers I might add).

To ameliorate this "problem" a British mammogram expert,Dr. Peter C. Gotzsche,rewrote a "letter" provided to British women regarding mammography screening:

“It may be reasonable to attend breast cancer screening with mammography, but it may also be reasonable not to attend.”

The Objective of Mammography
The British doctors worry about too many biopsies which result in extra cost, stress to the women, and extra radiation during repeat mammographic imaging. Don't they sound like nannies?

What about cancer? They don't mention that.

The object of mammography is to find cancer. That's the prime directive: FIND CANCER. If a mammogram finds a cancer, it's done its job. If the surgeons and pathologists and oncologists have yet to sort out which cancers need treating, that's just the state of their art; however, to look less hard for cancer clearly in inimical to what we, in the U.S. want. We want to find all the cancer possible -- and if you don't believe me consult the Tort system which has the accuracy rates sighted on infinity. Or ask any breast cancer advocate.

Socialist Mind Set
In the British health care system, the individual is less well regarded than the group, which is the state. This is the system we are moving toward. It therefore makes sense that the British want to do less when doing more is costly. In the United States our health care system has always done everything it can all the time despite the cost. It's a mindset.

Are we ready to change mindsets? Are we ready to understand that you can't try to save everyone all the time? That it may not be worthwhile to save one person if the cost incurred is deemed to be asymmetrical to the system?

And if we are, then are we ready to abandon the Tort system that penalizes the failures to each individual--because some individuals are going to the graveyard (or worse)-- because the system cannot afford to respond individually.

One thing the reformers of our health care system are not accounting for is the American mind set. If people wake up and understand that "health care reform" means the government has to make funding choices that pit the individual against society, then maybe even all the false hue of crisis will not cover the fundamental changes being proposed out of Washington in the name of hope.

1 comment:

metrolick said...

This is something interesting because all the women know that mammography is very important to prevent breast cancer, some of British women prefer to go to the pharmacy to avoid that treatment.