While the widely regarded Cancer Letter is usually available only by subscription at a hefty $405 a year, the current issue is available for free. It looks at the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. But the Cancer Letter is not concerned with the politics behind the story.
Instead, the Cancer Letter takes an extensive look at Planned Parenthood itself and why the organization is worried about screening mammography for the women it serves.
Remember, women who benefit most from mammography are post-menopausal, usually over age 50. Mammograms have been fiercely debated most for women in their 40’s. But no credible organization recommends screening mammograms for women younger than 40.
And how old is the population served by Planned Parenthood? Nearly 90 percent are 35 and younger, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson quoted in the article.
The Cancer Letter consulted with four experts in evidence-based medicine, people who have been trying to get the public to understand that all screening exams bring risks, chief among them the possibility of overtreatment. Mammography’s rate of false positives means many women end up worrying needlessly until they have a biopsy. One of the experts consulted also mentioned the possibility of a woman being treated for a cancer that never would have caused a serious problem.
Here’s Donald Berry, a biostatisician at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, as quoted in the Cancer Letter:
“It is far from clear that screening for breast cancer in the context of Planned Parenthood is an appropriate use of Komen’s money or Planned Parenthood’s time,” Berry wrote. “Had Komen chosen to cut funding on this basis and not on the basis of a political agenda, then this would have been a powerful and important statement.”
Specifically, the Cancer Letter asked its panel to review information about breast cancer screening on the Planned Parenthood website. All four were concerned about what they found.
“The website presents screening the way a screening advocacy group might—persuading women to be screened rather than helping them understand the benefits and harms—an approach at odds with Planned Parenthood’s philosophy of ‘respect for each individual’s right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning.'”
It’s worth reading the entire report.