Read or listen to Richard Knox’s piece. Among several strong elements in his story, he profiles Shannon Brownlee’s decision to stop having mammograms:
Health writer Shannon Brownlee of the New America Foundation says the issue is a prime example of what she calls American medicine’s tendency to overdiagnose and overtreat disease. She’s the author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.
Currently, Brownlee says, most doctors present annual mammograms as a “got-to-do-it” thing, not an individual choice.
Brownlee, who’s 56, has made up her mind. She doesn’t get regular mammograms. But she says it wasn’t easy.
“We have been told for, oh, almost a century now that catching cancer early is always a good thing,” she tells Shots. “So when people come along and say, ‘Well, maybe screening may not always be such a great thing,’ it’s very, very difficult to contemplate that.”
As she delved into the subject, Brownlee was impressed with the downside of routine mammograms.
When Brownlee decided she didn’t want an annual mammogram, that put her at loggerheads with her doctor.
“She would say, ‘You have to get a mammogram,’ and I would demur,” Brownlee explains. “And she would say, ‘Not a week goes by that a patient of mine didn’t have her life saved by getting a mammogram.’ And I wanted to say, ‘How do you know?’ Because you can’t know after the fact.”
That, in fact, is true. While studies show routine mammograms do save lives overall, even their staunchest advocates acknowledge you can’t know in a particular case.