Rep. Sue Myrick bravely battled breast cancer while continuing to serve in Congress. She performed her regular duties of voting on legislation and helping constituents while undergoing energy-killing chemo treatments.
That is why it is disappointing that she would twist the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that women under 50 consult with a physician before getting regular mammograms. Grandstanding and political posturing have no place in this complex debate; simplistic denunciations of a scientific panel only serve to confuse everyone about breast cancer research.
In a recently released video Myrick says, in part:
I’m a ten-year breast cancer survivor, which I’m very thankful for. And that’s why I was so concerned the other day when the recommendations came out from an independent panel that advises government saying that women between the ages of 40 and 50 don’t need to get mammograms anymore.
A letter signed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the American Academy of Physicians Assistants, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Partnership for Prevention, the Public Health Institute, and the Trust for America’s Health — whew — says that Myrick’s charge is untrue.
The letter notes:
The recent revision of the mammography recommendations has resulted in numerous inaccurate and unfounded attacks on the Task Force. We want to set the record straight about the recommendations and about the Task Force itself.
The organizations go on to say that the most common misrepresentation is that the Task Force recommends that women aged 40 to 49 don’t need mammograms. The letter points out that the recommendation is that women under 50 consult a physician about their risk factors and not automatically get routinely screened.
Three mammograms, after all, did not catch Myrick’s breast cancer. And that’s one problem, mammograms can provide a false sense of comfort. Also, Myrick underestimates the downsides of a false positive. She says in the video the only consequence is mental anguish.
In fact, many women are subjected to surgery and harmful side effects because a lump is identified in a routine mammogram. Even after a negative biopsy some women are convinced to undergo a lumpectomy because a doctor tells them that a biopsy is not 100 percent accurate.
Myrick also says:
And you know, if we save one life of a woman between the ages of 40 and 50, and we know it’s a lot more than that, because they’ve had a mammogram, that’s worth it.
The question is why do we not screen all women, say, over the age of 18? The reason is that younger women will have more false positives and the risks outweigh the benefits. But it could save at least one woman’s life — so would Myrick advocate such a routine screening policy?
Again, the issue is complicated and requires a mature discussion. When politicians distort the research it causes real confusion and does real harm.
Watch the video here: