Recently, the US Preventive Services Task force issued new guidelines for women in regards to early screenings for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society and other advocacy groups, and until just recently the federal government, all recommended that women start having mammograms at age 40. However, the government’s task force recently changed its recommendations, stating that women under age 40 should not undergo mammograms for early detection, and that women over age 50 should now have a mammogram every two years instead of every year. The task force argued that early mammograms often lead to unnecessary medical biopsies and other tests when a suspicious mass is detected, therefore implying that the new guidelines would result in savings because those unnecessary procedures would not be performed.
I do have very strong feelings on this topic. Although I have never had breast cancer, I am writing as the care giver of a young person with cancer, albeit a different kind. I also have a good friend through work who had cancer at an early age, as she has been a survivor for some years now.
I wholeheartedly support early detection and screening efforts. My fiance, who is now 39, was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer this summer. The cancer was present for at least three years before it was diagnosed. In 2006, he went to the emergency room with severe abdominal pain, received a CT scan, was told he was just constipated, and to go home and take cherry flavored milk of magnesia. He had pain and other discomfort on and off over the next three years until this summer, when he was again rushed to the emergency room at a different hospital for severe abdominal pain. This time, the doctors chose to probe a little more deeply into what was causing the pain, and some spots were found on his liver, and further testing was performed, and three weeks after the initial visit we were informed that he had cancer and would need major surgery to remove parts of his intestical tract, liver, and abdominal lymph nodes. His doctors reviewed the CT scans from his first visit in 2006, and the cancer did show up on those scans. If the emergency room doctors at the first hospital had taken the extra step and ordered a few more diagnostic tests, his cancer would have been found much sooner, and would not have spread from his small intestive to his liver and lymph nodes. The surgery he received would not have been as invasive as it was, and I believe he would have recovered much more quickly than he is now.
In my reading on the new guidelines, I saw another writer refer to the new government guidelines as having been issued “for the greater good”. I also saw opinions from some who believe this is the first step towards rationing care, with government health care looming on the horizon. I must admit that I favor the latter opinion. I think that this is a precursor of things to come if Congress should indeed vote to adopt health care reform that includes a government-run option, which all of us will be forced onto in one fashion or another. The argument will be made that cutting services will be “for the greater good” because doing so will cut costs and cut unnecessary care. The ‘greater good” will be placed before the individual’s well being, and those individuals who would have been helped because of the denied services will be out of luck.
I have been reflecting on when this country moved from an emphasis on the individual to an emphasis on the collective, and I can’t seem to pinpoint a time. I think it has been a slow creep, and has been helped along by a huge dose of political correctness. I do know that this has not been a healty trend for our country, which was founded on the bedrock that the individual is the very basis of our society.
I wish the ER doctor who first saw my fiance had experienced a little more regard for him as an individual. If he had, my fiance’s experience would have probably been far different. I would advise all those with cancer fears to undergo early detection screenings, as long as you are still able to do so, and don’t ever stop fighting for your right to have those screenings.