The US Preventive Services Task Force recently promulgated revised guidelines for screening mammography. Criticisms were related to the undervaluation of future lives saved and the overvaluation of negative impacts of mammography. Radiologists downplayed quality-of-life factors, potentially understating the value of all imaging procedures. The task force's recommendations for core needle biopsy, based on similar conceptual frameworks, were not met with equivalent responses. Full appreciation of the costs and benefits of screening provides the basis for making the best decisions for individuals and populations. This is undermined by the mixed messages that patients and physicians receive during clinical encounters and through other means. Quantitative approaches to medical care are valid on their own terms and when evaluated in the individual context. Insights from behavioral economics and political science inform discussion of population-based medical interventions. Preventing harm from medical interventions satisfies both the "primum non nocere" dictum and the loss aversion heuristic concordantly. The most effective medical care is provided when benefits are maximized and complications are minimized, especially when the harms occur immediately and the benefits are delayed. The importance of both quality of life and longevity in health care decision making require minimizing negative impacts of mammography when screening low-risk populations. Current practice differs significantly from the successful randomized trials, front-loading costs of false-positive examinations, and overtreatment. By decreasing false-positive mammographic results through adherence to ACR BI-RADS recommendations, radiologists can answer critics of early and frequent screening while still reducing cancer deaths.
Copyright (c) 2010 American College of Radiology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.