Breast cancer can be a very serious thing, and in many cases, early detection is key for a successful recovery. Thus, women in America have been told that a yearly mammogram is the best thing to do. But like all things, there are pluses and minuses. However, unfortunately, like many things we are just told what to do without hearing the minuses. Mammograms fall into this category for a couple of reasons.
In order to have an honest discussion about mammograms we must start by acknowledging that the ultimate goal here is life. There are many steps along the way to achieve this, but what we are talking about is saving our life. However, this is where mammograms fall short. While doctors and others might point to detection statistics, if the goal is life preservation, then mammograms don’t seem to help much.
As reported by the New York Times:
“One of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quarter-century, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age.
It found that the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. And the screening had harms: one in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat to the woman’s health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.”
What to remember about mammograms
Mammograms can cause cancer themselves. That’s right! You can walk into your mammogram appointment cancer free and walk out with cancer growing in your body. Why? Simply, it’s an x-ray and all x-ray’s use ionized radiation and this causes cancer by mutating and damaging normal cells. You are also being exposed to 30kVp radiation, which is 300% more carcinogenic than high energy radiation like that emitted from an atom bomb!
“Our work shows that radiation can change the microenvironment of breast cells, and this in turn can allow the growth of abnormal cells with a long-lived phenotype that have a much greater potential to be cancerous,” Paul Yaswen, a cellular biologist and breast cancer research specialist with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division, said in a statement to the press.
Mammograms are not as accurate as you may think
Every year approximately 1.6 million breast tissue biopsies are performed (most due to mammography test results). Of these 80% are negative. The New England Journal of Medicine points to the 1.3 million cases of misdiagnosed breast cancer every year. Leading millions of women to needlessly worry, start treatment and waste medical resources and money. When cancer is indeed detected, it is often called “stage zero”. Which means it is harmless if left untreated (should be monitored though) and often can even regress on its own.
Mammograms do not lower the risk of death
A large Canadian study indicated that out of 90,000 women (whom it followed for 25 years) compared the death rate due to breast cancer in those who had mammograms and those that didn’t. In the end, those who had mammograms did not have a better overall success rate. It was clear from the study that mammograms helped some women while hurting others…resulting is a statistical wash.
There are other Alternatives to Mammograms
Other alternatives do exist. One is thermography. This is a non-invasive test that can actually detect cancerous formations as small as 256 cells verse mammograms which can’t detect cancer formation until they are roughly 4 billion cells. Thermography simply detects small temperature changes in blood supply. Because cancer cells multiply so fast, they require more nutrients, i.e. blood. Where there is more heat, there is more blood and likely cancer formations growing.