Terry Waddell knew that her 87-year-old mother did not have long to live. The woman’s organs were shutting down because of old age, she said, and her arthritic body had withered to 80 pounds.
So, when Waddell received a call about her mother’s health, it was not what she expected. A visiting nurse had noticed a bit of blood between the frail woman’s legs and wanted her screened for cervical cancer.
Waddell, of Houston, regrets that she took her mother for the test. She refused to let doctor’s aides weigh her, she said, protesting that getting her mother out of her wheelchair was too arduous a process. Then came the actual exam, which she said “was painful to watch.” Her mother struggled to open her legs wide enough for the procedure and then lay there, quietly crying.
“I blame myself for not stopping this,” said Waddell, whose mother died two months later.“It was totally unnecessary.” Unnecessary, perhaps, but surprisingly common.
Cancer screening tests are vastly overused in the United States, with about 40 percent of Medicare spending on common preventive screenings regarded as medically unnecessary, an iWatch News investigation reveals. Millions of Americans get such tests more frequently than medically recommended or at times when they cannot gain any proven medical benefit, extracting an enormous financial toll on the nation’s health care system. Doctors disregard scientific guidelines out of ignorance, fear of malpractice suits or for financial gain, as patients inundated by medical advertising clamor for extra tests.
In the frenzied hunt for cancer, the risks of the screenings also get overlooked. Besides producing anxiety, screening people for cancer can itself cause injuries — even death — or set off a cascade of expensive tests and treatments that can waste more money and create more problems.