Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Cost of Not Understanding Risk

Many women believe that annual or biennial mammograms will dramatically reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer. Statistics prove them wrong, however. For more on risk versus women’s beliefs about risk when it comes to mammograms, see the New York Times article entitled “Universal Mammograms Shows We Don’t Understand Risk”.

You might think that understanding risk not that important. Think again. Screening all women over the age of 50 for breast cancer every other year is expensive. If it’s not going to save a significant number of lives (i.e. isn’t cost/effective), perhaps that money could be better spent on something that does have a significant effect on women’s health.

It’s not my intent to pick just on women here - men believe that screening for prostate cancer saves lots of lives, too, but it doesn’t. I’m also not arguing against screening tests in general, or against mammograms or prostate tests for individuals at high risk. Screening tests have a valuable place in our health care system. Let’s just use them wisely.

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