Early Mammograms Can Save Lives

By Lauren Cooperman

With the emergence of the new healthcare bill, there has been some questionable research that has been released recently as to the benefits, or more specifically lack thereof, preventative care.

Benefits of preventative care are under greater scrutiny as the costs and spending are on the rise. In particular, the question of whether or not the amount of people who are helped by early preventative care are worth the costs associated with that extra care, have come into question.  One hot button topic in particular has questioned the appropriate age for women to begin their screening of mammograms and whether or not the current recommendations should be changed.

Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 and older should have annual mammogram screenings. Recently, government officials and their experts discussed raising the breast screening age from 40 to 50.  In an article to Medscape Medical News, Dr. John Keen, MD, a diagnostic radiographer, said that women who engage in regular mammography screenings before age 50 tend to be over treated compared to having their lives saved.  Dr. Keen also states that statistically only 5% of women who are screened regularly before the age of 50 have their lives saved as a result.

However, within this statement is where the conundrum lies.  Why is it that saving the lives of the women within that 5% is not enough of a reason to continue preventative care?  When did saving a dollar become more important than saving a life?  And not only that, this report is missing other mitigating factors that occur when cancer has had time to metastasize, including the loss of a breast.

A new study presented by British researchers at the Radiological Society of North America showed that not only does early mammography save lives, but it greatly reduces the risk of mastectomy.  The study collected data from 7,000 women who began those mammograms at different age stages.  According to the data collected, women screened earlier cut their risk of mastectomy in half.  Also, only 2% of the women screened in their 40s were diagnosed with breast cancer compared to 54% in the 50-plus age range.  Professor Kefah Mokbel, of the London Breast Institute, declared in a public statement that, “Scanning women aged 40 to 49 would reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer by approximately 25%- and that’s a conservative estimate.  So I would say that maybe 1,000 lives a year could be saved.”

Dr. Nick Perry, director of the London Breast Institute, concluded in the same article, “Regular screening is already proven to lower the chance of women dying from breast cancer.  The results of our study support the importance of regular screening in the under-50 age group and confirm that annual mammography improves the chance of breast conservation should breast cancer develop.”

Aiding the argument for earlier preventative care is the actuality that the costs associated with treating a metastasized tumor that has gone untreated for a period of time is much more than the $200 average cost of a mammogram.  So why has this topic become so much of a fuss?  If the healthcare industry is supposed to be doing what it can to keep patients healthy and alive, why are roadblocks being set up for the professionals to take preventative steps with their patients?

An argument could be that the new healthcare plan is looking at upfront costs and not associating the longer, harder road that women will need to take if a tumor has been growing unfound.  However, it is difficult to fathom that this is true.  The notion of getting behind a recommendation that keeps costs low, but as a consequence more women will suffer, and consequently die does not seem like a valiant approach.

What do you think?  Is there a cost conspiracy?  How much would you be willing to pay to know that you have a fighting chance at survival?