Many of us here at Collington will remember John Bailar describing, at a Speakers Series event, the long story of his research efforts that placed in serious question the value of the routine and extensive mammography being deployed. We remember in particular his comment about this research that “I lost a lot of friends over that.”
But now, his role is recognized in an article in today’s Washington Post, dated October 23, by Barron H. Lerner, titled: Why did the American Cancer Society ignore evidence about early detection until now? The article was triggered by a new ACS recommendation reducing the recommendation to a new low.
When John C. Bailar III, a biostatistician at the National Cancer Institute , began questioning the value of mammography in the 1970s, the ACS was resentful. At the time, it was conducting a demonstration project of mammography across the country in which more than 200,000 women would be screened. Bailar’s negative message, the ACS believed, was indirectly killing women. “As a clinician,” ACS Medical Director Arthur I. Holleb wrote in 1978, “I shudder to think of all the undiagnosed and unsuspected women with breast cancer who could be treated promptly and offered an excellent chance for cure.”
Even as other organizations, most notably the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, progressively discouraged breast cancer screening, especially for younger women, the ACS held firm. Into the 1990s, it even recommended that women get a “baseline” mammogram in their late 30s, even though there was no evidence that such a test was effective.
Women (and those who care about them) all over the world owe John thanks beyond words. His position took integrity and courage.