Some weeks like this one just unfold – recurring themes just roll your way whether you’re looking for them or not.
I was not looking for imbalanced screening test promotions when this week began, but I’ve certainly had a number cross my desk.
I just learned of a St. Paul Pioneer Press story that promoted the fact that “Regina Medical Center’s ‘Mingle & Mammograms’ parties offer food, drink and spa treatments to ease the fears and discomfort associated with the procedure, and to encourage women to get screened every year.”
It’s hospital marketing. And the story quotes several hospital marketing people. So it’s hospital marketing through the newspaper – unpaid for.
The story nods – briefly – in the direction of a discussion of evidence, when it states:
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, made up of a panel of independent medical experts, recommends breast cancer screening every other year for women ages 50 to 74. It also recommends screening for younger women with family histories of breast cancer or other concerns.
But the American Cancer Society recommends mammograms much sooner. Its mammogram guidelines suggest all women 40 and older should have such a breast X-ray exam once a year. It also suggests women at high risk for breast cancer should start getting mammograms even sooner, or more often.
But that’s it.
Why did the USPSTF make that recommendation?
Why did the ACS disagree?
Isn’t it the job of journalism – and of health care providers – to help women understand these vital evidence-based questions? Isn’t it the job of journalism to help women understand that there are both benefits and harms that can occur?
Or is it the job of journalism to just tell hospital marketing stories?
Here’s one of the medical center’s promotional posters, with no hint of a discussion of the tradeoffs involved in breast cancer screening – especially for women in their 40s.
What is the quality of the discussion of tradeoffs that takes place at these events?
How much – if any – discussion takes place about what many women view as potential harms of screening?
Yesterday in Washington, I met a nurse practitioner who has written about how she will not have mammograms anymore, a decision made even after she entered a high risk group when her sister was diagnosed with and died from breast cancer.
There are intelligent, informed people who say “no” to screening. You’d never know it from the news story we mentioned. And you probably won’t meet them at such “mingle & mammograms” parties. But people need complete, accurate and balanced information in order to make a choice. Not just a party atmosphere.