Surgeons Admit That Mammography is Outdated and Harmful to Women
If you are an adult woman or know someone who is, you’ve probably heard that annual mammograms and other age-related screening tests are important to detect breast cancer. You’ve probably heard that mammography saves lives. If this is the case, you should also know that there is no conclusive evidence that this is true. In fact, there is evidence that mammograms can be harmful, even causing breast cancer.
Routine mammograms have been recommended for women over forty since 1976, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer. Since then, recommendations have changed. The American Cancer Society, Canadian Task Force on Preventive Care, and several other prominent health institutions currently recommend that women between the ages of forty-five and forty-nine have annual mammograms, then every two years over age fifty.
If you plan to begin or continue regular mammogram screening, here are some things you need to know before you make your final decision.
1. Screening mammograms do not correlate to a lower death rate from breast cancer.
A meta-analysis published in 2013 explored the findings of seven studies of the efficacy of using mammography to reduce the rate of death from breast cancer. These studies involved six hundred thousand women from the age of thirty-nine to seventy-four. The authors’ conclusions are a bit disturbing:
Subjects of some of the studies included in the analysis were not adequately randomized and were biased in favor of screening;
-The trials that did fully meet scientific standards found no effect on the death rate from breast (or other) cancer for women who were routinely screened using mammography versus those who were not;
-The numbers of radiation treatments and surgeries (lumpectomies and mastectomies) were significantly higher for women who underwent mammograms;
“Breast cancer mortality is an unreliable outcome measure in screening trials (and therefore also in cohort studies of the effectiveness of national programmes) and exaggerates the benefit.”
A study published in The British Medical Journal a year later supported these conclusions. Furthermore, the authors compared to breast cancer mortality with mammography and without (using physical examination only): the results were virtually identical.
2. Breast cancer is over-diagnosed in women who undergo routine mammograms.
This is hardly a surprise. If you are looking for something to be wrong, you’re much more likely to find something to validate your expectation.
In 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in its journal Internal Medicine that corroborates findings of the meta-analysis mentioned above, concluding that the diagnoses of breast cancer were significantly higher for women who have undergone mammogram screening tests. There was no correlation with that research, however, between increased mammography testing and subsequent breast cancer mortality.
Estimates of over-diagnosis of breast cancer range from thirty to fifty-five percent. This doesn’t mean that mammography found more breast cancer than would otherwise have been discovered; rather, it means that benign growths and non-invasive tumors that pose no/limited health risk were diagnosed, leading to over- and invasive treatment.
3. Conventional treatment for over-diagnosed breast cancer causes more harm than good.
Like treating the common cold with an antibiotic, the conventional treatments for breast cancer that include radiography, chemotherapy, hormone replacement therapy, and surgery for many cancers is overkill and unnecessary.
“Early detection” of a mass in breast tissue doesn’t mean that the mass will grow or become a health/life concern. Your body is killing cancerous cells every second of every day.
Aggressive treatment when not truly indicated can have grave consequences. Would you amputate your leg to get rid of a wart on your foot?
4. Mammography can return false positive results.
Falsely positive results from mammograms are very common, especially in younger women. There may be anomalies in breast tissue that a mammogram can find.
When analysis of a screening test comes back positive but further testing reverses the diagnosis, it’s known as a false positive test result. Being misdiagnosed with breast cancer has been associated with anxiety and long-term psychological effects.
5. Radiation kills.
We’ve learned over decades of research and observation that exposure to certain forms of radiation is detrimental, cumulative, and causes cancer over time.
That’s why dental hygienists put a lead apron on you and step behind a wall when you have your teeth X-rayed. Radiation from annual mammograms has been shown to induce breast cancer (and sometimes subsequent death) in women. Risk increases with the number of mammograms.
6. Cancer screening reduces the availability of resources for high-risk women.
With the significant harms and no benefit of routine mammograms comes a cost, not only of money but resources—the people and technology involved in performing the test, analyzing the results, and dispensing the (potentially unnecessary) treatment. Add to that the impacts on women who take part in regular cancer screening: emotional and financial hardships and strained interpersonal relationships.
Weighing the cost/benefit of mammography, resources would be better used to monitor women at high risk of developing breast cancer, to spend time with women who notice persistent changes in breast tissue, and to allow greater availability of health care professionals and institutions for treatment of confirmed breast cancer.
7. Information available to the public is skewed.
Bias on the part of medical professionals is clearly on the side of conventional breast cancer screening and treatment. It’s hard to un-learn what you’ve been taught. A physician who recommends a mammogram for regular “preventive” care may not tell you about the potentially harmful side effects of this procedure; the compelling clinical evidence about the questionable efficacy of mammography to aid in the detection of breast cancer (leading to acceleration of often harsh treatment protocols); and the assumption that mammography prevents mortality for women who test positive. The pros and cons of mammography are not often provided together on websites and other information sources.
This may be the first time you ever heard that regular mammograms can be bad for you and return no significant benefit. Without being too cynical, consider that revenue generated by the cancer industry is in the hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
Worldwide, cancer is the most expensive disease to treat. Additionally, many millions of dollars are spent in the name of cancer research (often funded by pharmaceutical companies). These costs continue to rise each year and the corresponding corporate interests’ net worth increases along with them.
Turning the tide away from potentially harmful screening tests and unnecessary treatments requires that consumers (not healthcare providers) educate themselves rather than relying completely and absolutely on their doctors. This is true in every context, not only breast cancer.
Take time to listen to your body, know your options, the risks, and benefits, and don’t be too intimidated to discuss your health with your provider from a basis of knowledge. If you’re concerned about the health of your breast tissue you can always consider thermography as an alternative screening exam.