I would ignore this except that it’s in the Washington Post and despite the fact that they’re closing bureaus in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, what’s in what remains of the paper is still influential.
So I feel compelled to address Dana Milbank’s column in the Post about the US Preventive Services Task Force breast cancer screening recommendations.
He characterized the USPSTF recommendations as a “cruel and clumsy blow” that “wiped out much of the progress” in breast cancer detection.
It got worse, as he wrote:.
“With a drumbeat of recommendations raising doubts about various cancer screenings, the public could easily get the mistaken impression that all cancer screening is a waste of time and money.”
Stop the foolishness.
The USPSTF said nothing about any cancer screening being a waste of time and money. In fact, it recommends biennial screening mammography for women aged 50 to 74 years. It recommended against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years, stating “The decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms.”
How “cruel” to try to ensure that women are fully informed about benefits and harms, and to state that this should be an individual decision based on individual values.
If the public can get the impression that all cancer screening is a waste of time and money from those statements, then Milbank might better spend his time educating the public on how to read.
It got worse. Much worse. As he continued:
“Luckily, Congress has a simpler solution at hand: It can abolish the task force and turn it into a group that is more accountable to the public. Under the House version of health-care legislation, the task force, whose members need not subject themselves or their opinions to public comment or public hearings, would be reorganized as a federal advisory committee subject to oversight. Their scientific judgments would stay independent, but the group would no longer be able to go rogue with surprise recommendations.”
Oh, that would be a grand idea. Make science accountable to the public? Let’s make science ignore the evidence and tell us fairy tales that we want to hear. That everything is terrific, risk-free and without a price tag? And let’s make the independent task force subject to federal government oversight. Then we can make science ignore the evidence and only spew out what is politically popular at the moment.
Milbank believes his ideas mean that the task force would no longer be able to “go rogue with surprise recommendations.” Read your own paper, Dana.
Dan Eggen and Rob Stein reported that “The findings underscore a decades-long debate in the medical community about the benefits and risks of routine breast cancer screening for younger women.” So this is not “rogue” and not “surprising” to anyone who has made any attempt to follow the issue.
Why did he choose to give only Nancy Brinker’s side of the story? His own paper reported this praise for the USPSTF recommendations:
“It’s about time,” said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a Washington-based patient advocacy group. “Women deserve the truth — and the truth is the evidence says this is not always helpful and can be harmful.”
But it’s really sick when a columnist suggests that task force members be sent to Gitmo and that they be sent “to the Death Panel for a humane end.”
If he thought this was humorous, it wasn’t. If he thought his column clarified anything, it didn’t. Confusion and rhetoric will reign as long as we continue to get one-sided, vacuous, inaccurate columns like this. If, indeed, anyone is reading it.