It’s almost that time. Movember. The month formerly known as November, when men grow moustaches in support of men’s health, and women around the world have to put up with that (often unappealing) facial hair … because it’s for a good cause.
Over the last few years, as we’ve slowly accepted this hairier month, we’ve also come to accept the phrase, “Get tested.” There is lots of encouragement for men to be screened for prostate cancer, early and often. Yet just recently, a different message emerged. The US Preventive Services Task Force suggests PSAs (the blood sample test used to detect prostate cancer) shouldn’t be used, as the test does more harm than good in the long run.
Based on a worldwide study, the task force found a positive PSA result can result in significant amounts of further testing and treatment, and that the negatives outweigh the positives. Side effects from treatment can include impotency and incontinence.
They determined there are many slow-growing cancers that, in fact, that would be best left untreated. Overall the studies determined mortality was not reduced by taking the test. So because of the risks of unnecessary intervention and the negative outcomes, they recommend the test not be used at all.
As usual, there’s another side. Opponents agree the PSA test over diagnoses cancers that don’t need to be treated, but they point out it also picks up the lethal aggressive ones—and in those cases, early detection improves the chances of survival. They argue that if the cancer isn’t fast-growing, the best treatment is to simply monitor the patient. If it is a fast-growing type, then aggressive treatment is warranted.
They argue it is not the test results that create problems. Instead they point to the structure of the US medical system, where there is financial incentive to perform treatments and surgeries.
Personally, I will continue getting tested. I believe I would rather detect an aggressive cancer early, and if it is a slow to moderate form, I’ll be able to arm myself with information about alternatives and risks.
If you’re wondering why an accountant is writing about cancer in connection to accounting and business performance management, there’s a reason. What struck me about this issue from a work perspective is how different people can look at the very same data and come to very different conclusions.
In this case, understanding that the test is performed in a health system that financially rewards further testing and procedures helped provide a context for understanding the task force recommendation. Without context, people may not have reached the same conclusions.
The lesson for me in analyzing information about any business is to make sure all of the information surrounding the problem is available before coming to any conclusions. It’s very important to understand the context of the problem as well as the hard data to help find the right solution.
But for some men next month, any reason to grow facial hair is a good one – regardless of context.