by Loretta Van Coppenolle
Earlier this year, in February, news broke of a large 25-year-long British Medical Journal study that showed no benefit from mammography for women aged 40 to 59. The death rate from breast cancer or other causes in Canadian women who had mammograms and those who did not was the same.
The study also showed that among participating women who screened positive for cancer, 1 in 5 was unnecessarily treated with chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, all expensive modalities with known and possibly severe side effects.
One would expect such an announcement to cause pandemonium in the medical world or at least concern among women who’d had mammograms. Yes, there was a flurry of reactions from physicians who denounced the study for one reason or another, but otherwise the news went largely unnoticed. Months later it seems to have been all but forgotten, with most women continuing to get routine mammograms as if the report had never come out.
There are many in the medical community who support mammography, including the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging, which called the British Medical Journal study “incredibly flawed and misleading.” One critic of the study, Dr. Mitva Patel, a breast radiologist at the Ohio University Comprehensive Cancer Center, says, “There is no question that screening mammography saves lives,” and she urges women over age 40 to continue to have annual mammograms. She claims that the trial on which the study was based used secondhand mammography machines “with outdated and inaccurate technology.”
Still, a 25-year professional research study that involved almost 90,000 women stands on its merits. The study itself does not take a position; it simply reveals its findings, which raise questions. It’s not the first time questions have been raised by medical professionals about the benefits and potential consequences of mammography. Questions about its necesssity and effectiveness have persisted for decades, since the screenings began.
Mammography was introduced in the U.S. in the early 1970s with little science to back it up and without warnings to women that breast tissue is particularly sensitive to radiation. In 1974, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Medicine testified to the National Cancer Institute that, “giving a woman under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical.”
Later that decade, then-Director of Biostatistics at Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Hospital in Buffalo, NY, Irwin Bross, Ph.D., produced research showing that mammography would cause four to five cancers for every one detected; he anticipated an epidemic of medically-caused breast cancers in the U.S. For his candor, Bross was rewarded with an abrupt defunding of his research by the National Cancer Institute.
In 1985, the British medical journal The Lancet declared that in women below age 50, “mammography gives no benefit.” Nonetheless, even today women under age 50 are urged to have mammograms in aggressive campaigns by the medical establishment. The American Cancer Society even urges that some women as young as age 25 have routine mammograms.
In 2001, The Lancet said, “Screening for breast cancer with mammography is unjustified… for every 1,000 women screened… one breast cancer death is avoided whereas the total number of deaths is increased by six…. There is no reliable evidence that screening decreases breast-cancer mortality.”
Five years later an article in the British Journal of Radiology showed the kind of low-energy radiation used in mammography is much more dangerous than previously thought – four to six times more mutationally damaging than higher energy radiation.
In 2008, a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine showed that women who were screened every two years for breast cancer had higher rates of the disease than women screened only every six years. Says author Mike Anderson in his book, Healing Cancer from Inside Out, “This not only suggests that the more frequent mammograms were causing higher rates of cancer, but that the lower cancer rates were the result of the body healing cancer on its own, given the six-year interval between screenings.”
The alternative community has long spoken out against routine mammography. Russell Blaylock, M.D., author of Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients, estimates that a woman increases her chances of getting breast cancer by 1 to 3 percent a year with annual mammograms. Women who have a strong family history of breast cancer have even higher odds of getting it. Another estimate is that a woman who begins annual mammograms at age 40 has a 30 percent higher chance of getting breast cancer by age 50 than a woman who does not.
Alternative Canadian physician Ben Kim says, “properly performed breast exams are just as effective at detecting early tumors as mammography.” Kim adds the reminder that “all forms of ionizing radiation increase the risk of developing cancer and heart disease.”
ALTERNATIVES TO MAMMOGRAMS
If a woman chooses not to have mammograms, there are three other options available:
- Thermography. Thermography is a technological alternative to mammography. It is both a radiation-free and compression-free screening that can detect breast and other body abnormalities. FDA-approved, thermography uses digital infrared thermal imaging, works well for women with all kinds of breast issues and boasts a 90 percent accuracy rate. This screening option is available in San Antonio without a physician referral. See the display ad from DITI Imaging on page 31.
- Self-examination. As the main article notes, some medical professionals believe breast self-examination can be as effective as mammography when performed properly. Pointers are available on such websites as nationalbreastcancer.org and breastcancer.org. If a lump is detected, the woman may wish to make an appointment with her physician for further evaluation.
- Physician manual exam. If you are unsure about performing a self-exam properly, having your physician perform a manual exam can be the next step. If a suspicious lesion is discovered, the next step may be a biopsy.