Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breast Cancer and Feminist Epistemology...

I have to wonder if this study would have been different if science included more women..

A couple of years ago I wrote a paper about feminist epistemology. The central concern of some feminists involved in epistemology is that the questions and interpretation of data is skewed by the perspectives of the scientists themselves. Their claim is based on the idea that all persons bring their own unique perspectives to scientific inquiry, and the fact that science is homogoneous skews both the questions asked and the way the data is interpreted.

The study concludes, based on statistical analysis, that women shouldn't get mamograms until they are 50 -- and that breast self-exam isn't particularly useful. The harm seems to be an increase in worry due to the need to do further tests and perhaps needless treatement for cancers that otherwise might have gone away on their own.

Really, folks, I'll be 41 next month. Without hubby feeling the lump and without my physicians taking it seriously (even though I was only 39), I seriously doubt that I'd have made 50. I would have gone along like nothing was wrong - until my cancer spread -- maybe to my bones, lungs or brain. It would take me a while longer to figure out that something was seriously wrong -- and by that time it might have easily been too late. Instead of chemo, we'd be talking about hospice.

To say that I'm outraged is to undersell this... if this becomes commonly accepted "fact", people exactly like me won't get the life-saving reaction I got. In 5-10 years, the 30ish women now won't even know about a lump until it's too late.

The idea that somehow the risk of needless treatment / stress is worse than even ONE death from breast cancer is really stupid. I simply can't accept that kind of reasoning and it makes me mad. Folks who haven't had a family history of breast cancer will now delay treatment and skip self exams. If even one of these women dies as a result, it's too much.

Trust me -- many things are worse than losing a breast and having to do chemo. No, I'd rather not have had to do them -- but, even the small risk that I might DIE was enough to make being bald with one boob be pretty attractive.

Instead of being concerned about false-positives and an increase in biopsies, why not work to increase the technology involved in mamograms so that they are more effective on "lumpy" or otherwise dense breasts? Make the tests more accurate, improve biopsy techniques and decrease the wait time on results -- presto -- less stress/worry.

I hate how statistics get used thses days -- relying on statistics lead people in the financial sector to ignore their common sense and thus to the crappy economy. Now statistics are being used to declare breast cancer not a concern until age 50.


Unknown said...

I wouldn't presume to agree or disagree with you, lacking the firsthand experience. At the same time, I thought this piece offered some additional perspectives that might be valuable--and she agrees with your final argument: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-manfr/beyond-the-headlines-and_b_361285.html

phd me said...

Because the stress of a false positive is so much worse than the stress of cancer? Ummm...

Mammograms certainly aren't going to save everyone. My mammogram showed nothing, even though I (and the doctor) could feel the mass. To me, that proves the need for better detection, not less of it. I was supposed to wait until I was 50 to even consider cancer? Despite the rise in breast cancer diagnoses in under-50 women? I'm 37 years old; I seriously doubt I would have made it to 50, thanks.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

My mammogram didn't show anything either, but we could feel it AND it showed up on a sonogram.