I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But just for fun, I’m going to chime in on the controversy stemming from the new mammography recommendations released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Again, let me remind you that I’m not a doctor. Therefore, silly me. I waited until I actually spoke to mine before getting all that upset about these new recommendations. Why? Because a recommendation is just that, a recommendation, not a mandate. I also have no history of breast cancer in my family. In fact, I have very little cancer history at all in my family so to be fair, this particular recommendation doesn’t push any specific buttons with me. Had I watched my mom die from breast cancer, I’m guessing my feelings would be quite different.
So if you’re reading this and you have in fact watched a person die or almost die from breast cancer, I’m asking you to put that aside for a moment and really listen to what I’m trying to say here.
I like statistics. I think they’re groovy. I like how they’re exact and objective. I like how science uses them to figure out things. Note I said “uses them”. The scientific method is straightforward and repeatable as is the method in which results of research are reported. Open any scientific journal and you’ll see the following:
- Abstract (A concise summary of the experiment.)
- Introduction (Why did you do the experiment in the first place?)
- Methods (Independent and dependent variables.)
- Results (Tables, data and charts.)
- Discussion (Comparing current results to older results and/or discussing factors that varied in the design of the experiment.)
- Conclusions (A brief summary of what was done, what was found, and what is suggest as a follow up to either replicate the findings or expand on them)
Then a journal publishes the findings and lastly the readers (that are usually folks interested and schooled in the field being studied) become “consumers of the information”. In other words they have to look for any flaws in the scientific method that was used. Remember, the scientist’s job is to report the facts. The reader’s job is to determine if they’ll apply the findings to their day to day jobs or ignore them all together. This determination is based on the statistical significance of the findings (i.e., the probability that something is true or unlikely to change) and the sampling used in the first place (i.e., if you’re doing research on a teaching technique for all grade school students K-5th grade, but only sampled girls in kindergarten when you did the experiment, your results will be skewed.)
Are you confused? Bored? Annoyed? I hope the hell so because the medical folks that read medical journals are the ones that are supposed to decide what they think about the scientific studies published as well as any other different data streams reported on in their field. Not you. Not me. And certainly not bloggers, commentators, or celebrities. For example, when The View‘s, Elisabeth Hasselbeck called the new guidelines “gender genocide” you need to stop and take a breath before you jump on that bandwagon. In her defense her mom is a breast cancer survivor. I get that this is a hot button issue for her, but I don’t get how you go from a recommendation based on statistical analysis to gender genocide. That’s ludicrous.
When I first saw the new findings regarding mammograms on the Internet, I thought I had read the heading wrong. Then I clicked on the articles, surfed around a bit and frankly my conclusion was, “Great. This will force the medical community to create a better screening tool.”
I’ve only had one mammogram and it hurt like shit. Anyone that’s had one has to admit that this test, as great as it is, is only as good as the density of boobs getting tested. Or the tech giving the test. Or one’s ability to withstand the pain needed to have the test administered properly.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad test, just that there are a lot of variables at play here. Screening someone for breast cancer isn’t like screening for heart disease via a blood draw that measures the cholesterol levels in your blood or slapping electrodes on one’s skin. Thus results like the ones reported by the task force should be welcomed because they will force science to take it up a notch and create a better test that’s more accurate and results in more lives saved. And in the mean time, doctors will keep doing their job and patients will ask better questions and the system will keep rolling along as it has been until something better comes along. It’s a win-win situation. How could that possibly be a bad thing?
So that’s part one of my beef. Tune into tomorrow for part two. Oh yes, there’s more.