Blog | Monday, September 30, 2019

Does mammography save lives?

I find that the public often exaggerates the benefits of many preventive health measures. I don't blame the public for this. There are several forces conspiring to deceive the average patient into accepting exaggerated claims of various medical tests and strategies. Of course, the Medical Industrial Complex is a gluttonous beast that must be fed massive quantities of medical testing and treatment if it is to survive.

Most of the public thinks that medical interventions, including mammography, lowering cholesterol levels, blood pressure reduction, and even colonoscopy are downright lifesaving.

Recognize that I am in favor of all of these measures, but that the actual benefit to the individual is much smaller than most folks believe. In the case of mammography, there is uncertainty as to whether it saves lives at all, a view readers can easily find with a rudimentary internet search. Mammography experts all agree that any benefit of this screening test to the individual patient is very modest. This is not my opinion; it is a fact. And yet, most women, including the women in my life, believe that this test offers them solid protection.

If I am correct that the individual enjoys only very modest benefit from these routine medical interventions, then how did they gain a permanent foothold in the medical landscape?

Why would physicians zealously recommend tests that were of such limited value?

Why would insurance companies and the government pay for such testing?

Why would patients submit to tests or lifelong medications that offered a very limited benefit?

Why are so many of us unaware of this issue?

As I do not want this post to be double my usual word count, I will provide you in another post with a detailed response on this issue. I strongly urge you to check back here for an opportunity to inform and empower yourselves. I'm not against screening tests or established medical treatments. I'm for the truth.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.