Health News Review

Someone suggested that we comment on a CBS segment from two weeks ago. We reviewed it and found it to be the most confusing jumbling of breast cancer screening information we’ve seen from a major news organization.

The anchor began by saying, “Now it seems like we’re getting new recommendations every week and it’s confusing.”

Every week? Only if you make it seem that way.

Then the anchor and physician-correspondent began discussing “the latest study” showing that “mammograms in younger women could increase their risk of cancer.” They discussed an unspecified study in high-risk women, some of whom had mammograms before the age of 20.

Huh? If this was supposed to follow up the US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations for women in their 40s, why were they suddenly talking about mammograms in high-risk women including teenagers? And when you look for breast cancer in high risk women it is no longer accurate to refer to this as “screening.” Screening refers to looking for disease in broad populations of apparently healthy people with unknown risk.

The semantics are important. Or else you’re confusing people even more.

The physician-correspondent immediately followed this discussion by saying that the American Cancer Society stands by its recommendations that the benefits of screening far outweigh the risks.

Again, huh? In the teenagers the segment had just discussed? That’s ludicrous.

Then the segment, which was labeled as being about alternatives to mammograms, discussed only one – ultrasound – calling it “our most important test.” That, dear readers, is a completely unfounded statement.

The anchor quickly shut off the discussion. No other “alternatives” were discussed and the segment whizzed by anyone who was watching in a whirlwind of misinformation that ran one minute and 43 seconds.

Let’s hope most viewers were instead brushing their teeth or getting their first cup of coffee at the time. Better yet, that they had the TV turned off.

Comments

Louise Gaunt posted on December 18, 2009 at 4:42 am

Once again it would appear that the media has allowed their lust for sensationalism to get in the way of sound reporting. It is a little unfortunate that two separate pieces of evidence have been brought to the public attention at the same time. The task force statement on screening mammography is advising that USA adopts the same policy as the rest of the world for screening women with no additional risk factors i.e. to start screening at age 50. The other evidence relates to high risk young women with significant family history of pre-menopausal breast cancer, where it would appear that screening mammography may be harmful. Those of us involved in breast scteening have been seeking alternative screening modalities for high risk young women to avoid excess use of radiation, and for this group MRI would seem to be the most appropriate method currently available. I feel there is some very confused thinking in the media, with unnecessary reporting, which is only adding to public concern. Sometimes, least said is soonest mended – perhaps we should be advising the media to rein back a little in their enthusiasm until they have sought proper medical advise.