Who Wants to Take a Pill to Prevent Breast Cancer?

On April 14, The United States Preventive Services Taskforce concluded that women with an elevated risk of breast cancer – who have never been diagnosed with breast cancer but whose family history and other medical factors increase their odds of developing the disease–should consider taking one of two pills that cut that risk in half. The Taskforce is an independent panel of medical experts who review the medical literature to estimate the pros and cons of preventive interventions. This is the same Taskforce that in recent years raised questions about the benefits of mammograms in 40 to 50-year-old women, and PSA tests for men of all ages, tests that screen respectively for breast and prostate cancer. Despite the popularity of both of these tests, the Taskforce concluded that their harms often outweigh their benefits.

The irony now is that with this report on breast cancer prevention pills, the Taskforce has switched from rejecting something patients believed in to endorsing something most patients will reject.

The seemingly strange way the Taskforce ping-pong’s between popular and unpopular recommendations is inevitable, because these kinds of recommendations must necessarily go beyond the medical facts – it is impossible to decide what preventive measures people need without making value judgments.

To understand the way facts and value judgments get mixed together in these kinds of recommendations, let’s take a closer look at these breast cancer prevention pills… (Read more and view comments at Forbes)

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