Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally posted on April 12, 2013. Enjoy!
Medical studies can befuddle even the most conscientious and well-informed person.
Does a daily baby aspirin hurt or help? Can men skip the prostate exam? Should primary care doctors examine patients’ skin for cancer? One study says one thing, the next says the opposite. Maddening.
Enter an obscure hero: the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). It is “an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine” that “conducts scientific evidence reviews of a broad range of clinical preventive health care services (such as screening, counseling, and preventive medications) and develops recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems.” Its recommendations apply to screening patients for maladies they have no symptoms of.
In other words, USPSTF reviews medical studies and draws conclusions about the pros and cons of various preventative and diagnostic medical procedures. It makes recommendations about which are worth it and which aren’t.
USPSTF doesn’t profit from its work, unlike the researchers and experimenters who use their studies to lobby for more funding. It weighs the merit of scientific studies, something which is extremely difficult for the layperson to do.
Some of its recommendations are surprising:
1. Most people should not take baby aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease.
2. Doctors should not teach breast self-examination to female patients.
3. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether the benefits of screening adults for glaucoma outweigh the risks.
4. Postmenopausal women should not undergo hormone therapy, i.e. taking estrogen alone or combined with progestin.
5. Doctors should not test women for ovarian cancer.
6. Screening for prostate cancer offers only a small benefit but significant risks.
7. Doctors should not screen adolescent or adult males for testicular cancer.
8. There is not enough evidence about calcium and bone density to recommend that women take calcium.
USPSTF’s neutrality and reliance on peer-reviewed science is not enough to convince some medical experts to follow its recommendations, some of which are controversial. Here is a debate over cervical cancer screening:
Here’s another clip attacking USPSTF’s recommendation against screening for prostate cancer when a patient has no symptoms of it:
Get to know the USPSTF’s recommendations in case your doctor wants to perform unnecessary or even harmful tests. Doctors are not omniscient and may not be up-to-date on all the relevant science out there, so be prepared to lobby for yourself. Information is power.
Photo credit: Valueline