Monday, November 30, 2009

Second Class Citizens Still.

A week or so ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued new guidelines regarding when and how often women should get Pap tests, which, in case you didn't know, screen for HPV and cervical cancer. In fact, the Pap test is the sole reason why the number of deaths from cervical cancer in this country has dropped so dramatically in the last 30 years. In countries where the Pap has not been so widely used, cervical cancer is second only to breast cancer in causing premature deaths of women.

Until this change, the guidelines said Pap testing should start within three years after becoming sexually active and take place every year. Now they say testing shouldn't start until age 21 regardless of sexual activity and then only has to be done every 2 years after that. And, once a woman reaches age 30, it should only be done every 3 years. The reason for the change, ACOG says, is because doctors have been performing too many unnecessary procedures on young women; procedures which can cause these women to be unable to carry a pregnancy to term; procedures which aren't necessary because in MOST cases the HPV or abnormal cervical condition will clear up on its own.

The new guidelines came just days after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (of which not one member is an oncologist) issued its own new set of guidelines related to women's health. Namely, guidelines detailing when women should start getting mammograms, the primary screening tool for breast cancer. There too the age for testing to start was raised, from age 40 to age 50, in part because too many doctors were performing too many unnecessary procedures.

The ACOG says their guidelines have nothing to do with the mammogram guidelines; and that they have nothing to do with the current health care debate going on in which women's sexual health is a major sticking point. The timing, they say, is purely coincidental. The decision to make the change, they say, was not political. Well I for one call bullshit. LIFE is political and there are no coincidences.

But what I'd really like to fucking know is why are women being screwed because doctors are fucking up? If the doctors are over-treating then, hello, fix the fucking doctors. Why is it we keep hearing about how women's health care needs to be rationed? Why is our society so willing to put women's lives at risk because a bunch of doctors (mostly male I remind you) don't know what the fuck they're doing? What about mens health care? Is there NO overtreatment there to be rationed? You think anyone is even thinking about changing the guidelines for when men get their prostate checked? Or whether Viagra is being overprescribed? I highly fucking doubt it. And that is because women, no matter how far we've come, are still undervalued in our society. And our fertility seems more important to that society than our actual lives: it was negative fertility outcomes that led to the change in Pap testing to begin with. I'll tell you this: not being able to carry a baby to term is devastating, but I imagine dying from, or even just suffering with, cervical cancer would be a whole lot worse. Because while reduced screening will surely lead to less unnecessary treatments, you know what the fuck else it will do - it will lead to less NECESSARY treatments too.

On the day the guidelines came out, I heard stories from 3 young women who would probably be dead if they waited until 21 to get their first pap test, or waited 2 or 3 years between tests. These women are all cervical cancer SURVIVORS, instead of victims, because of yearly screening and the treatment they received after their "abnormal" test results.

The point is simply - early screening saves lives. Every day. And by pushing back screening ages, the ACOG and the USPTF are putting women's lives at risk. And I am disgusted. And what makes it worse is that the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, an organization which stresses early screening and which I thought would be outraged right along with me about the Pap guidelines, actually supports the new guidelines because HPV/cervical abnormalities ALMOST always clear up on their own in younger women. But what about those women for whom they don't just clear up? Are their lives not worth saving? Aren't these women's lives worth more than the fertility of a few others? Or are we all still just here to be babymakers, worthless without that biological ability?

You might think that in the 21st century women, and their health, wouldn't have to take a back seat to some bureaucratic bullshit. But apparently you'd be wrong.

1 comment:

LSL said...

Thank you for writing this. I felt so deflated and powerless as the new recommendations came in. You put words to it, as usual.