By Dr. Mercola
The evidence is really stacking up against the routine use of many commonly used medical screening methods such as mammograms and CT scans—two ionizing radiation screening methods that I've been warning about since the creation of this web site.
On the heels of recent reports revealing that too many diagnostic tests are being done on adults, new reports have now come out, warning that some of these tests not only can cause cancer in children, but can induce new cancers in children who are being treated for cancer.
Chest Radiation at Young Age Contribute to Later Breast Cancers
Researchers from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City recently presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, stating that girls who receive radiation to the chest to treat childhood cancer have a high risk of developing breast cancer at a young age1.
Even those who received low doses of the common cancer treatment face an increased risk of breast cancer later, the scientists said, adding that the risk posed by radiation may be as great as having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation—two genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
The researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,300 cancer survivors in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. As reported by MedPage Today2:
"With a median follow up of 26 years, 175 of the nearly 1,300 cancer survivors later developed breast cancer at a median age of 38 years. The time between the initial therapy and later breast cancer was a median of 23 years, the researchers found...
As well, they studied 4,570 first-degree female relatives of participants in the Women's Environmental Cancer and Radiation Epidemiology study to estimate the incidence associated with carrying two mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that increase the risk of breast cancer.
Overall, Moskowitz said the cumulative incidence of breast cancer at age 50 was 24 percent, compared with the 4 percent background rate among all women reported by the Surveillance and Epidemiology End Results (SEER) database.
For women exposed to the high levels of mantle radiation formerly used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma (20 Gy or more), the cumulative incidence at age 50 was higher at 31 percent, Moskowitz said. That is similar to the 30 percent incidence seen in the cohort of relatives among carriers of the BRCA1 mutation, she said.
But even for women exposed to lower levels of whole-lung radiation (10 to 19 Gy), the cumulative incidence was elevated and was comparable to the 10 percent rate seen among carriers of the BRCA2 mutation in the cohort of relatives, she said."
Sadly enough, the proposed "solution" is to begin mammogram screenings earlier on women who received radiation treatment in their youth, which further increases their risk of cancer! The nonsensical nature of this argument is truly mindboggling...
Routine Mammograms are Ineffective and Increase Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Mammograms expose your body to ionizing radiation that can be 1,000 times greater than that from a chest x-ray, which we know poses a cancer risk. According to Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D. of the International Physicians for Humanitarian Medicine3:
"If a woman follows the current guidelines for premenopausal screening, over a 10 year period she would receive a total dosage of about 5 rads. This approximates the level of exposure to radiation of a Japanese woman one mile from the epicenter of atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki."
... [In] a study by Dr. Robert M. Kaplan, the chairman of the department of health services at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles... they found 22 percent more invasive breast tumors in the group who had mammograms every two years compared to the group who had just one mammogram over a six-year period."
Not surprisingly, as often happens when anyone dares speak out against those in power, both the American Cancer Society and NCI called Dr. Epstein's findings "unethical and invalid." But Dr. Epstein is by no means alone anymore. A number of studies have surfaced, especially in the past couple of years, shedding much-needed light on the ineffectiveness and dangers of mammography.
- In July 1995, The Lancet wrote about mammograms4, saying: "The benefit is marginal, the harm caused is substantial, and the costs incurred are enormous ..."
- A 2009 review of the available research by the esteemed Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews5 found that while mammography screening was likely to reduce breast cancer mortality, screening also led to a 30 percent rate of overdiagnosis and overtreatment -- which meant that all in all it actually increased the absolute risk by 0.5 percent. This means that for every 2,000 women screened over a 10 year period, ONE woman will have her life prolonged, while 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed with cancer had they not been screened, will be treated unnecessarily
- A 2010 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine6 suggests that increased awareness and improved treatments rather than mammograms are the main force in reducing the breast cancer death rate. Mammograms, combined with modern treatment, was found to have reduced the death rate by 10 percent, but the study data indicated that the effect of mammograms alone could be as low as 2 percent or even zero. To put this into further context, a 10 percent reduction would mean that if 1,000 50-year-old women were screened over a 10 year period, 996 women rather than 995.6 would not die from the cancer — an effect so tiny it may have occurred by chance!
- A 2012 Harvard study7 found that 15-25 percent of breast cancer cases are overdiagnosed, translating to 6 to 10 women being overdiagnosed for every 2,500 women receiving annual mammograms. The researchers concluded that mammograms may not only be inappropriate for breast cancer screening, but may actually contribute to significant overdiagnosis of cancer that otherwise would have remained harmless.
CT Scans Also Found to Cause Cancer in Children
In related news, the British medical journal The Lancet8 recently reported that computed tomography (CT) scans are associated with an increased risk of cancer. While the scans can produce life-saving images of head injuries, complicated pneumonia, and chest infections, a child who is exposed to the radiation from just two or three scans will TRIPLE their risk of developing brain cancer later in life. Five to 10 scans was also found to triple the risk of leukemia.
Kate Kelland with Reuters9 quoted Amy Berrington de Gonzalez of the National Cancer Institute at the United States National Institutes of Health, who worked on the study with scientists from Britain and Canada:
"It's well known that radiation can cause cancer but there is an ongoing scientific debate about whether relatively low doses of radiation, like those received from CT scans, do increase cancer risks, and if so the magnitude of those risks... Ours is the first study to provide direct evidence of a link...and we were also able to quantify that risk."
CNN Health, which also reported on these findings, offered the following sensible advice10:
"A study last year found 1.65 million children got a CT scan during their visits to emergency rooms in 2008, a fivefold increase in 14 years11. Before you agree to a CT scan for your child, here's some advice from the study's authors and pediatricians at Cincinnati Children's Hospital:
- Ask for the lowest dose of radiation possible
- Avoid multiple scans
- Ask for an ultrasound or MRI instead, which have no radiation at all"
New Study:Substantial Increase in Radiation Exposure from Medical Imaging Pose Health Risks
According to a new study just released in the current issue of JAMA, the use of advanced diagnostic imaging among six large integrated health care systems in the US has substantially increased between 1996 and 2010. The use of CT scans tripled during that time, dramatically increasing lifetime radiation exposure as CT scans and nuclear medicine examinations deliver far higher doses of radiation than conventional x-rays.
The average per capita effective radiation dose increased from 1.2 mSv in 1996 to 2.3 mSv in 2010. Furthermore, the percent of patients receiving high doses, between 20-30 mSv, or very high doses, up to 50 mSv, approximately doubled each year.
The authors noted that there's evidence showing that radiation levels in the range now employed are linked to the development of radiation-induced cancers. According to the authors:
"Most studies that have evaluated patterns of diagnostic imaging have assessed insurance claims for fee-for-service insured populations where financial incentives encourage imaging. No large, multisite studies have assessed imaging trends in integrated health care delivery systems that are clinically and fiscally accountable for the outcomes and health status of the population served.
Understanding imaging utilization and associated radiation exposure in these settings could help us determine how much of the increase in imaging may be independent of direct financial incentives.
... "The increase in use of advanced diagnostic imaging has almost certainly contributed to both improved patient care processes and outcomes, but there are remarkably few data to quantify the benefits of imaging.
Given the high costs of imaging—estimated at $100 billion annually—and the potential risks of cancer and other harms, these benefits should be quantified and evidence-based guidelines for using imaging should be developed that clearly balance benefits against financial costs and health risk."
Many Cancers Go into Remission on Their Own
According to breast surgeon Susan Love of UCLA, at least 30 percent of tumors found on mammograms would go away if you did absolutely nothing12. These tumors appear to be destined to stop growing on their own, shrink, and even go away completely.
This begs the question—how many cancer cures that are attributed to modern interventions like chemotherapy and radiation, are actually just a function of the individual's immune system ridding itself of the tumor on its own? And how many people get over cancer in spite of the treatments that wreak havoc on the body, rather than because of them?
It is impossible to definitively answer this question. But it is safe to say that the strength of your immune system is a major factor in determining whether or not you will beat cancer, once you have it.
Nearly everyone has cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in their body by middle age, but not everyone develops cancer. The difference lies in the robustness of your immune system. Dr. Barnett Kramer of NIH13 says it's becoming increasingly clear that cancers require more than just mutations to progress.
They need the cooperation of surrounding cells, certain immune responses, and hormones to fuel them. Kramer describes cancer as a dynamic process, whereas it used to be regarded as "an arrow that moved in one direction" (e.g., from bad to worse).
What does this mean for you?
The better you take care of your immune system, the better it will take care of you.
One way to strengthen your immune system is to minimize your exposure to mammograms and other sources of ionizing radiation. But you can also build up your immune system DAILY by making good diet and lifestyle choices. One of the best ways to do this is by optimizing your vitamin D level.
Vitamin D: Cancer Fighter Extraordinaire
Vitamin D, a steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body, is one of nature's most potent cancer fighters. Receptors that respond to vitamin D have been found in almost every type of human cell, from your bones to your brain. Your liver, kidney and other tissues can convert the vitamin D in your bloodstream into calcitriol, which is the hormonal or activated version of vitamin D. Your organs then use it to repair damage and eradicate cancer cells.
Vitamin D is actually able to enter cancer cells and trigger apoptosis, or cancer cell death. When JoEllen Welsh, a researcher with the State University of New York at Albany, injected a potent form of vitamin D into human breast cancer cells, half of them shriveled up and died within days. The vitamin D worked as well at killing cancer cells as the toxic breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, without any of the detrimental side effects and at a tiny fraction of the cost.
I strongly recommend making sure your vitamin D level is 70 to 100ng/ml if you've received a cancer diagnosis. You can achieve this through direct, safe exposure to ultraviolet light, or if this is not possible, by taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement. Vitamin D works synergistically with every cancer treatment I am aware of, without adverse effects. To learn more, please watch my one-hour lecture on vitamin D.
My Top Tips for Cancer Prevention
A recent study published in The Lancet predicts worldwide cancer cases may balloon to 22.2 million by 2030, up from 12.7 million in 200814. According to Dr. Freddie Bray of the International Agency for Research on Cancer15, "we're headed in the wrong direction when it comes to controlling cancer rates worldwide."
"The study found that any reductions in infection-related cancers like stomach, cervical or liver cancer... are being offset by "an increasing number of new cases that are more associated with reproductive, dietary and hormonal factors." CNN Health reports16.
This, along with the evidence of increasing rates of radiation-induced cancers discussed above, should be a wakeup call for anyone who cares about their health. It's important to realize that cancer is for the most part a man-made disease, primarily influenced by lifestyle and toxic environmental exposures. It's time to quit promoting damaging screening methods like mammograms as "preventive" health strategies. It does not prevent anything, but rather increases your risk of cancer and unnecessary and potentially harmful treatments.
Prevention truly is worth a pound of cure when it comes to cancer, and the following healthy lifestyle strategies can help you avoid ever becoming a cancer statistic.
- Avoid Fructose and Sugar. It's quite clear that if you want to avoid cancer, or are currently undergoing cancer treatment, you absolutely MUST avoid all forms of sugar -- especially fructose -- and this is largely due to its relation to insulin resistance. According to Lewis Cantley, director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, as much as 80 percent of all cancers are "driven by either mutations or environmental factors that work to enhance or mimic the effect of insulin on the incipient tumor cells," Gary Taubes reports17.
- Optimize Vitamin D. There's overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that vitamin D deficiency plays a crucial role in cancer development. Researchers within this field have estimated that about 30 percent of cancer deaths -- which amounts to 2 million worldwide and 200,000 in the United States -- could be prevented each year simply by optimizing the vitamin D levels in the general population.
- Get plenty of natural vitamin A. There is evidence that vitamin A also plays a role in helping prevent breast cancer18. It's best to obtain it from vitamin A-rich foods, rather than a supplement. Your best sources are organic egg yolks, raw butter, raw whole milk, and beef or chicken liver. However, beware of supplementing as there's some evidence that excessive vitamin A can negate the benefits of vitamin D. Since appropriate vitamin D levels are crucial for your health in general, not to mention cancer prevention, this means that it's essential to have the proper ratio of vitamin D to vitamin A in your body.
- Exercise regularly. If you are like most people, when you think of reducing your risk of cancer, exercise doesn't immediately come to mind. However, there is some fairly compelling evidence that exercise can slash your risk of cancer. One of the primary ways exercise lowers your risk for cancer is by reducing elevated insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells.
- Normalize your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats by taking a high-quality krill oil or fish oil and reducing your intake of most processed vegetable oils.
- Get sufficient amounts of iodine. Iodine is an essential trace element required for the synthesis of hormones, and the lack of it can also cause or contribute to the development of a number of health problems, including breast cancer. This is because your breasts absorb and use a lot of iodine, which they need for proper cellular function. Iodine deficiency or insufficiency in any of tissue will lead to dysfunction of that tissue, and tumors are one possibility.
- Avoid xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that mimic natural estrogens. They have been linked to a wide range of human health effects, including reduced sperm counts in men and increased risk of breast cancer in women. There are a large number of xenoestrogens, such as bovine growth hormones in commercial dairy, plastics like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and parabens in personal care products, and chemicals used in non-stick materials, just to name a few.
- Avoid unfermented soy products. Unfermented soy is high in plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. In some studies, soy appears to work in concert with human estrogen to increase breast cell proliferation, which increases the chances for mutations and cancerous cells.
- Have a tool to permanently erase the neurological short-circuiting that can activate cancer genes. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is caused by emotions. It is likely that this factor may be more important than all the other physical ones listed here, so make sure this is addressed. My particular favorite tool for this purpose, as you may know, is the Emotional Freedom Technique.
- Only 25 percent of people eat enough vegetables, so by all means eat as many vegetables as you are comfortable with. Ideally, they should be fresh and organic. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli in particular have been identified as having potent anti-cancer properties. Drinking a quart of organic green vegetable juice daily is an easy way to increase your vegetable intake. Please review my juicing instructions for more detailed information.
- Maintain an ideal body weight.
- Get appropriate amounts of high-quality sleep.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaners, synthetic air fresheners, and air pollution.
- Limit your exposure and provide protection for yourself from EMF produced by cell phone towers, base stations, cell phones and WiFi stations. On May 31, 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared that cell phones are "possibly carcinogenic to humans."20 Implement as many safety strategies as possible if/when you cannot avoid their use.
- Boil, poach or steam your foods, rather than frying or charbroiling them. Better yet eat as much raw food as you can.
As a standard recommendation, I strongly advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, including fruits. But for most people it would also be wise to limit your fructose from fruit to 15 grams or less, as you're virtually guaranteed to consume "hidden" sources of fructose if you drink beverages other than water and eat any processed food.
On a personal level, you can decrease your risk of cancer by MORE THAN HALF simply by optimizing your vitamin D levels with sun exposure. And if you are being treated for cancer it is likely that higher blood levels—probably around 80-90 ng/ml—would be beneficial.
Ideally, you'll want to provide all the vitamin A and vitamin D substrate your body needs in such a way that your body can regulate both systems naturally. This is best done by eating colorful vegetables (for vitamin A) and by exposing your skin to safe amounts sunshine every day (for vitamin D).
For example, physically active adults experience about half the incidence of colon cancer as their sedentary counterparts, and women who exercise regularly may reduce their breast cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent compared to those who are inactive.
It's important to include a large variety of techniques in your exercise routine, such as strength training, aerobics, core-building activities, and stretching. Most important of all, however, is to make sure you include high-intensity, burst-type exercise, such as Peak Fitness. These exercises activate your super-fast twitch muscle fibers, which can increase your body's natural production of human growth hormone. For detailed instructions, please see this previous article.
However, there's significant controversy over the appropriate dosage, so you need to use caution here. There's evidence indicating that taking mega-doses, in the tens of milligram range may be counterproductive. One recent study suggests it might not be wise to get more than about 800 mcg of iodine per day, and supplementing with as much as 12-13 mg (12,000-13,000 mcg's) could potentially have some adverse health effects19.