#2 THE PURPOSE OF THESE POSTS AND A FEW FUNDAMENTALS

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MEDIA?

I have created this “Blog” to provide women and their physicians with facts about breast cancer screening that they have probably not read before.

You might not realize it, but breast cancer screening is one of the major advances in women’s health over the last 50 years. The death rate from breast cancer had been unchanged prior to the start of screening in the mid 1980’s. Soon after, in 1990, the death rate began to fall for the first time in 50 years (1) so that each year there are now over 40% fewer women dying from breast cancer. It has been estimated that more than 600,000 lives have been saved since 1990 (2). Therapy has improved, but as will be explained in future “blogs”, therapy saves lives when breast cancers are treated earlier.

Unfortunately, there has been a decades long effort to reduce access to screening with an incessant campaign of misinformation that has led to confusion among women and their physicians.  I remain baffled as to the reason this has persisted considering the huge amounts of data that show that thousands of lives are saved each year by annual screening starting at the age of 40.

We live in an era of “conspiracy theories”, and I do not want to contribute, but one of the leading opponents of screening has argued that insurance companies should not be graded by the number of women who participate in screening (3). One has to wonder why a physician is concerned about insurance company profits? Another of the leading opponents of screening is on the Board of the International-Prevention-Research-Institute whose backers read like a “whose who” of “Big Pharma” (4). One has to wonder who would benefit if women were to present with later stage cancers that require more intensive systemic therapy?

Unfortunately, something has happened to the media. They have marginalized radiologists (experts in breast cancer screening) and are not interested in providing women with the facts. When misinformation has been published (most recently by the American College of Physicians that will be the subject of my next Blog) major outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and even my local newspaper, the Boston Globe, are uninterested in OpEd pieces that I have submitted detailing the facts. It is unclear why the media have taken this position, but a recent obituary might provide a clue (5). It described the tragic death of Dr. Lisa Schwartz at the age of 55 who was affiliated with the Dartmouth Medical School and specifically the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. The Dartmouth Institute is one of the leading groups that have sought to reduce access to screening. The obituary stated that “Dr. Schwartz received an accurate diagnosis and coped with seven years of uncertainty as she underwent several versions of chemotherapy.” This meant that she was in her forties when she received the diagnosis of her “cancer”.

The obituary stated:

“Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin [her husband] were the directors of the Center for Medicine and Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, part of Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine. There they trained hundreds of journalists to become more skeptical about claimed scientific breakthroughsand miracle cures, and to better communicate the benefits and risks of medical tests and treatments.” [italics and bolding are mine]

I can’t help but wonder if she and her husband and the Dartmouth Institute have “trained” the media to disregard what experts have to say about breast cancer screening and that this is the reason that the media ignore experts in breast cancer screening.

It is surprising that the media simply reported that she died from cancer diagnosed when she was in her forties. Given that she, apparently, devoted herself to convincing women to not participate in screening, I would assume that she was not being screened when she was diagnosed with her “cancer”. I would think that, if nothing else, and given her dedication to reducing screening, it would be news worthy and important to know that she died from breast cancer.

As my next Blog will explain – “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up”.

REFERENCES

  1. Kopans DB. Beyond Randomized, Controlled Trials: Organized Mammographic Screening Substantially Reduces Breast Cancer Mortality. Cancer 2002;94: 580-581
  2. Hendrick RE, Baker JA, Helvie MA. Breast cancer deaths averted over 3 decades. Cancer. 2019 Feb 11. doi: 10.1002/cncr.31954. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 30740647.
  3. Welch HG. Screening mammography–a long run for a short slide? N Engl J Med. 2010 Sep 23;363(13):1276-8
  4. http://www.oncotrack.eu/the-group/consortium/international-prevention-research-institute/ last accessed on 12/22/2018
  5. https://tdi.dartmouth.edu/about/our-people/directory/lisa-m-schwartz-md-ms TAKEN DOWN

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