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Is Prevention a Campaign Myth?

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Every radio and television station regularly airs public service announcements that cite you can catch cancer in time with early screening. The “catch it in time” mentality has become pervasive in mainstream medical circles, as well as among consumers, public health experts, and politicians.

In 2004, Dartmouth Professor of Medicine Gilbert Welch, MD, published the book Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here’s Why. It simply laid out the pros and cons of cancer testing for the general public. The book was recommended by many public health officials as indispensable reading for the millions of Americans who repeatedly face screening tests and who want to make better-informed decisions about their own health care.
The science painstakingly recounted by Dr. Welch concludes that costs are not reduced and lives are not lengthened by screening for prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, or even submitting to an annual physical examination. Dr. Welch said in a recent New York Times article that emphasizing this kind of “preventive healthcare” as a cure-all to control healthcare costs is a political myth.
The book also highlights the division between integrative physicians and their allopathic counterparts. Integrative physicians define preventive care as educating and counseling patients in lifestyle choices to address their genetic predispositions to certain chronic diseases. For example, for patients who have genetic predispositions to inflammation that increase their risk of heart disease, stroke, and a host of other chronic conditions, the expression of that genetic tendency can be changed by dietary changes, supplementation, exercise, and stress management techniques. Lifestyle medicine is science-based and can not only treat chronic disease successfully, but can truly prevent it.
As Dr. Welch points out, allopathic medicine defines preventive medicine as early detection, an approach that is echoed by politicians in every election campaign. It also illustrates the myth that “money can make it better,” which has adversely affected many facets of American life. While cancer “preventive” screening can alert you to problems that need to be addressed, it all too often picks up minor abnormalities that don’t affect the length or quality of your life.
One of the best examples of over-diagnosis and over-treatment in the US is prostate cancer. In August the US Preventive Services Task Force published new guidelines indicating that PSA screening for senior men had more risks than benefits, and was questionable for younger men.

With early detection masquerading as prevention, or as the cure-all solution for controlling healthcare costs in this country, many of us feel it is time for a paradigm shift. It is time to embrace true preventive medicine, embodied by the practices of integrative physicians nationwide. John Weeks, a noted health journalist, discussed in a recent editorial why integrative practice is missing form the health reform debate.
AAHF plays a valuable role in changing the paradigm shift in the US. You can help reform healthcare in the US by endorsing the concept of wellness in healthcare reform with a letter to your congressional representative.

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