Consumer Health Digest #09-51

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 17, 2009

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

New mammography guidelines stir controversy. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has issued new breast cancer screening guidelines that challenge the current practice of starting routine mammography screening at age 40. After reviewing recent studies, the USPSTF concluded that the decision to begin screening before the age of 50 "should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient's values regarding specific benefits and harms." [Screening for breast cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement, Annals of Internal Medicine 151:716-726, 2009] The USPSTF is the leading independent panel of private-sector experts in prevention and primary care. Its recommendations are considered the "gold standard" for clinical preventive services. The highly respected Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics agrees with the USPSTF. Its consultants have concluded that "offering routine mammography to women 40-49 years old would save many women from radiation exposure, unnecessary surgery, pain, anxiety and expense, at the cost of some lives." The American Cancer Society, which still favors routine screening from age 40 onward, says it reviewed the same data plus additional findings and has accused USPSTF of placing too low a value on saving a single life. [American Cancer Society responds to changes to USPSTF mammography guidelines. ACS Web site, Nov 16, 2009] The USPSTF and Medical Letter give more consideration to cost-effectiveness and weighing benefits against harms, such as unnecessary biopsies of women with false-positive mammograms.

Christian Science declining. Participation and membership in the Christian Science Church has been declining steadily for many years:

Christian Science contends that illness is an illusion caused by faulty beliefs, and that prayer heals by replacing bad thoughts with good ones. Christian Science practitioners work by trying to argue the sick thoughts out of the patient’s mind. Consultations can take place in person, by telephone, or even by mail. Individuals may also be able to attain correct beliefs by themselves through prayer or concentration. The steady membership decline is not surprising because the church's doctrines have little appeal to modern youth. [Barrett S. The origin and current status of Christian Science. Quackwatch, Dec 18, 2009] The church's efforts to include coverage of services by practitioners in proposed health care reform bills have been thwarted so far, but lobbying to gain inclusion continues.

Costa Rica warns against 4Life products. The Ministerio de Salud (Costa Rican Ministry of Health) has issued a warning against 4Life products. Health Ministra María Luisa Ávila said the products have not been registered and do not have the required health permits to be sold in Costa Rica. The 4Life products are claimed to "improve immune system function by up to 437%" by increasing the number of protective IgA antibodies. Ávila said that her ministry has not evaluated the product but that any sales in Costa Rica would be illegal. [Long C. Costa Rican health officials caution against 4Life. Daily News, Dec 15, 2009] Health-related consumer protection actions are relatively uncommon outside of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

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This page was revised on December 18, 2009.