Early Detection Still Vital for Women's Health
During a recent week, it occurred to me that three of the breast cancer patients I met with had something in common: each will very likely receive a shorter course of treatment for their cancer because of self-examinations and subsequent mammograms.
None of these women has a family history of breast cancer. Two were under the age of 45. One was under 35.
Their experience contradicts the recent U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation that the majority of women should not receive routine breast cancer screenings or conduct self-examinations until the age of 50.
The vigilance of my three patients should allow them to receive care that is less prolonged and considerably less invasive than if they would have heeded the advice of these new guidelines.
As a surgeon, I welcome the opportunity to have a thorough and robust discussion on this topic. In particular, I seek out ways to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
New input is always important in a country that has the world's highest incidence of breast cancer diagnoses among Caucasian women. However, the task force made little or no effort to identify areas where investors and researchers should direct their efforts to develop technology that would help make prevention and testing more accurate and effective.
Though a “one-size-fits-all” approach may not be the most optimal way to control initial costs when it comes to early detection, it remains the most successful tool that we currently have for improving and ultimately saving a patient's life.
It is also important to understand that detection at an earlier age and phase of the disease yields a significant reduction in the tremendous physical and financial impact that comes from treating the cancer at a later stage.
This is something I have witnessed first- hand as I have successfully partnered with numerous patients who proactively sought treatment after receiving a positive cancer diagnosis.
For every alleged dollar that is saved by delayed detection, there is a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, a friend whose very life hangs in the balance. Not only did the task force neglect to account for the full financial burden of this short-sighted approach, but it also sought to repair a process that was never truly broken in the first place.
Early detection saves lives and money. We should never lose sight of this fact, no matter where the debate over health care may take us.
Written by Paula Termuhlen, MD the medical director of the Miami Valley Hospital High Risk Breast Cancer Center from 2009 to 2011..
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