USPSTF is the United States Preventative Services Task Force.
This is a site I often use and frequently show to patients. For further reading….that is, if they want to know more about a topic. There is a nice two minute video about the Task Force right now, saying that it’s a volunteer organization that started 30 years ago, to review research about preventative care, agree on a recommendation and publish that recommendation.
Before they publish or update a recommendation, they ask for public comments and expert comments.
I have great respect for the USPSTF. Let’s take breast cancer screening. The current recommendation is here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/breast-cancer-screening1. There was a big furor when this came out, because the recommendation is for biennial mammograms. Every other year, not every year. The USPSTF went through reams of data and papers and said that they could discern no difference between yearly and every other year screens in normal risk patients. The screening recommendations are different for people with abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
So who yelled about that recommendation? Radiologists for one. Now, there is a financial incentive on their part to have women get the mammograms yearly. The American Cancer Society was annoyed and the Susan B. Komen Foundation too. But the USPSTF stand their ground. The guidelines get updated in a 5-10 year cycle.
Reasons that I like the guidelines:
1. They are online. My patients can look at them too.
2. They make recommendations for screening by age groups.
3. They rate their recommendation: A, B or C level evidence or I for Insufficient Evidence.
4. You can read the fine print. They put the article with all the detail and all the references on the website. The weight of evidence is apparent.
5. They say “We don’t know.” when there is insufficient evidence.
6. The site is pretty easy to use.
I have to weigh evidence in medicine. A functional medicine “study” that is not a randomized double blind clinical trial and that only has 20 patients is really more of a case report. Hey, we tried this supplement and they liked it. The recent study about alcohol from Europe with 599,912 patients has a lot more weight. The Women’s Health Initiative had 28,000 women in the estrogen/progesterone arm, and 21,000 in the estrogen only/had a hysterectomy arm. Length of study, design, all of these are important.
There is a recent headline about a study saying that coronary calcium scores have now had one study where they were useful. That is a study. The guideline from the USPSTF is here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/cardiovascular-disease-screening-using-nontraditional-risk-assessment. The guideline says “insufficient evidence” and that’s what I tell patients who ask for it. I offer referral to a cardiologist to discuss it, but I am reluctant to do a test where I really don’t know what to do with the results. I pay very close attention to the guidelines and they are always changing. They have the strongest and least biased (by money and greed) evidence that I can find. And patients can read them too, which is wonderful.
Even though the USPSTF says that there is insufficient evidence for mammograms after age 75, we can still do them. That is, medicare will keep covering them. Some people keep doing them, some don’t. I discuss guidelines, but I will support the person continuing the care if that is what they want and they are informed. People are infinitely variable in their choices and logic.