“Mammography screening is one of the greatest controversies in healthcare, and the extent to which some scientists have sacriﬁced sound scientific principles in order to arrive at politically acceptable results in their research is extraordinary. In contrast, neutral observers increasingly ﬁnd that the beneﬁt has been much oversold and that the harms are much greater than previously believed.” writes Peter C. Gotzche, MD, the author of Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy.
What is mammography?
Mammography involves taking multiple X-ray images of the breast tissue in an attempt to detect cancer. During the process a woman’s breast tissue is tightly compressed in order to get a clear picture. A routine screening mammogram is often followed by a diagnostic mammogram if any suspicious findings are discovered by the radiologist. Having yearly mammograms are recommended by doctors, although the evidence may not support that.
In February of 2014, the results of the largest study on mammography was released in the British Medical Journal. The study involved 90,000 Canadian women aged 40-59 who had been observed for more than 25 years. It revealed that deaths from breast cancer (and from all causes) were the same for the women who received regular mammograms compared to those who didn’t.
What are the Risks from Radiation?
Contrary to conventional assurances that radiation exposure from mammography is trivial and similar to having a chest X-ray, or about 1/ 1,000 of a rad (radiation-absorbed dose). The routine practice of taking four films for each breast results in about 1,000-fold greater exposure. One rad, focused specifically on each breast rather than the entire chest, exposes premenopausal women to a total of about 10 rads for each breast when screened over a ten year period.
Concerns with 3D Mammography- to achieve a three-dimensional image, this new mammography device moves in an arc around your breast area, taking multiple x-rays as it slowly moves. A computer then puts these images together into one 3D image. The technology received FDA approval in 2011, and is now available throughout the US.
“The procedure gives women twice as much radiation as a standard mammogram, notes surgeon Susan Love, author of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. That’s because women who get 3-D imaging still undergo traditional 2-D mammography, as well. Radiation is a known cause of breast cancer. Researchers in recent years have become concerned about radiation exposure from medical imaging, particularly CT scans. A 2009 analysis estimated that CT scans cause about 29,000 cancers and 14,500 deaths a year. Love says she’s skeptical about the technology, which she compares to ‘a new toy,’ noting that the most essential questions about its benefits are likely to remain unanswered. The most important question about a new type of screening, Love says, is not simply how well it finds cancer, but whether it saves lives.
“There is no data to prove that tomosynthesis finds more cancer or saves lives, ‘3-D is a new technology that should not be used outside of a clinical trial,” says Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
Can cancers come and go on their own or does having yearly mammograms raise the risk of cancer?
A compelling study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine may confirm what some physicians have suspected and witnessed in their own practices for years – breast cancer and other invasive cancers, can in some cases, heal on their own without intervention. The study also raises suspicion regarding the safety of annual mammograms and whether they contribute to the increased incidence of breast cancer….
The study compared two groups of women ages 50 to 64 in two consecutive six-year periods. One group of 109,784 women were followed from 1992 to 1997. Nearly all the women in this group received mammography testing for only one year, which was performed between 1996 and 1997.
The second group included approximately 119,472 women who were followed from 1996 to 2001, with nearly all women receiving routine mammography screening during that period.
Interestingly, the women who had regular routine mammography screenings had 22 percent more cancers than the group who did not. For every 100,000 women who were screened regularly, 1,909 were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over six years, compared with 1,564 women who did not have regular screenings.
The researchers concluded that the most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that the cancers in the women who did not get regular mammography screenings may have spontaneously disappeared -meaning that they may have had cancer at one point, but later they did not. Another theory is that the routine mammography may have contributed to the increased incidence of invasive breast cancers that were diagnosed. More on this study
Thermography and ultrasound are safer options
Thermograms-The use of Digital Infrared Imaging is based on the principle that metabolic activity and vascular circulation in both pre-cancerous tissues and the surrounding areas of a developing breast cancer are almost always higher than normal breast tissue. This is because in areas of concern, there is an ever-increasing need for nutrients that will frequently result in an increase in regional surface temperatures of the breast tissue. Digital Infrared Imaging uses ultra-sensitive medical infrared cameras and sophisticated computers to detect, analyze, and produce high-resolution images that detect these slight temperature variations. Read more about thermography
Ultrasound–is another option is an ultrasound which does not emit ionizing radiation or compress the breasts. Additionally, an ultra-sound is also more specific when it comes to deciphering between a solid mass (more suspicious of cancer) vs. a fluid filled mass (more likely a benign cyst).
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