Can You Cut Your Breast Cancer Risk by Skipping Mammograms?
March 02, 2013
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By Dr. Mercola
In the US, women are still urged to get an annual mammogram starting at the age of 40, despite the fact that updated guidelines set forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 urge women to wait until the age of 50, and to only get bi-annual screening thereafter.
Unfortunately, many women are completely unaware that the science simply does not back up the use of routine mammograms as a means to prevent breast cancer death.
What’s worse, the “new and improved” tomosynthesis mammogram, which provides a three-dimensional (3D) image of the breast,1 is now being hoisted on women across the US as “the answer” to mammography’s failing efficacy rates and pattern of harmful misdiagnosis...
Please, don’t get suckered into further doubling your risk for radiation-induced breast cancer by signing up for annual 3D tomosynthesis.
New 3D Mammography is NOT the Solution Women have Been Waiting for...
The primary hazard of conventional 2D imaging is ionizing radiation. According to a 2010 study,2 annual screening using digital or screen-film mammography on women aged 40–80 years is associated with an induced cancer incidence and fatal breast cancer rate of 20-25 cases per 100, 000.
This means annual mammograms CAUSE 20-25 cases of fatal cancer for every 100,000 women getting the test. Now, 3D tomosynthesis also exposes you to ionizing radiation—and much more of it!
First, in order to achieve the three-dimensional image, the machine moves in an arc around your breast, taking multiple x-rays along the way, which are then computed together into a 3D image. Second, women are still advised to get a conventional 2D mammogram.
How is this addressing the hazards of breast cancer screening using ionizing radiation?
Well, it’s not. After all, that’s what the cancer screen is supposed to do, yet studies have repeatedly shown that mammography causes more widespread harm than good, and has not resulted in reduced breast cancer mortality rates. The hope is that these 3D images will boost the accuracy of diagnosing cancer; alas... this is probably not going to happen.
Because there’s no way to tell if a little spot on an x-ray (3D or not) is actually cancerous or benign. As image technologies have improved, false positives have increased along with it. Furthermore, what good will it do to identify more and more tiny tumors if the incidence of cancer starts to skyrocket as a result of ever increasing amounts of radiation exposure?
Want to Decrease Your Risk of Breast Cancer? Forgo Screening, Expert Says
In my view, 3D tomosynthesis is a false solution. It’s a sad, flailing attempt to avoid having to admit mammograms are useless, if not dangerous. This truth is absolutely devastating to the cancer industry, which is why they’re fighting tooth and nail to deny it.
“The most effective way to decrease women’s risk of becoming a breast cancer patient is to avoid attending screening,” writes Peter C. Gotzche, MD of The Nordic Cochrane Centre and author of Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy. "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.”
This fact was revealed in a 2011 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, which found that mammography breast cancer screening led to 30 percent overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which equates to an absolute risk increase of 0.5 percent.
As recently reported by The Los Angeles Times,3 yet another study is now putting the thumb-screws on the industry, concluding that women who follow the American Cancer Society’s guidelines to get annual mammograms starting at age 40 not only receive NO additional protection against aggressive breast cancer, but actually experience greater harm through increased false positives and unnecessary treatments, when compared to women who get bi-annual mammograms between the ages of 50 and 74 only (which is what the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends).
The article goes on to estimate that if all American women between 66-89 received annual mammograms instead of biannual testing, this results in a staggering 3.86 million more false-positives and 1.15 million more biopsies. This is great for profits. Not so great for you though, who has to pay financially, physically, and emotionally...
“Even after researchers adjusted for confounding factors such as age, place of residence and race, they found no benefit to more frequent screenings,” the LA Times reported.
Analysis of 30 Years of Breast Screening Shows Mammograms Do More Harm than Good
Last November, the New England Journal of Medicine4 also published a shocking analysis of the effects of breast cancer screening in the US over the past three decades, which found that 1.3 million women were misdiagnosed and mistreated as a result. The number of early-stage breast cancers detected have doubled over the past 30 years since the advent of mammography, from 112 to 234 cases per 100,000. Late-stage cancer incidence has decreased by eight percent in the same time frame, from 102 to 94 cases per 100,000.
According to the authors:
“Despite substantial increases in the number of cases of early-stage breast cancer detected, screening mammography has only marginally reduced the rate at which women present with advanced cancer. Although it is not certain which women have been affected, the imbalance suggests that there is substantial overdiagnosis, accounting for nearly a third of all newly diagnosed breast cancers, and that screening is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer.”
The lead author, Dr. Archie Bleyer, recently defended his team’s findings against industry nay-sayers who criticized the analysis, stating:5
“We are disappointed by the comments from the leadership of the mammography community. They reiterate three 'talking points' that were voiced after our report was published. First, we undercorrected for an underlying incidence trend of invasive cancer. Since 1986, there has not been an obvious increase in the incidence of invasive cancer. Even if we had used their number — based on data from Connecticut in the years 1940 through 1980 — we would still estimate that from 1979 through 2008 and in 2008 alone, there was an overdiagnosis of breast cancer in 878,000 and 34,000 women, respectively.
Second, it was stated that our data do not reflect the real world. We would argue that it is hard to get more 'real' than three decades of data from the world's preeminent cancer surveillance program.
Third, they say that DCIS should have been excluded. How could we estimate overdiagnosis without including an abnormality that is essentially detected only with mammography and is treated as cancer? And yet the authors of this letter characterize our research as 'dangerous.' We are disappointed because to mitigate the problem of overdiagnosis, primary care practitioners, surgeons, oncologists, and the public health community will all need the help of our colleagues in mammography. And the first step in addressing any problem is to acknowledge it.”
Only ONE in 2,000 Women Undergoing Regular Mammogram Screening Will Benefit from it
So what are your chances of being that lucky person who actually benefits from regular mammograms? According to recent findings by the Nordic Cochrane Center, only ONE out of 2,000 women screened regularly for 10 years will actually benefit from screening due to early detection of breast cancer.
Meanwhile, 10 healthy women (out of those 2,000 screened for a decade) will be misdiagnosed, turned into cancer patients, and will be treated unnecessarily. These women will have either a part of their breast or the whole breast removed, and will typically receive radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. This treatment (for a cancer that was non-existent) subsequently increases their risk of dying from complications from the therapy and/or from other diseases associated with radiation and chemo, such as heart disease and cancer. So, to recap, in order for mammographic breast screening to save ONE woman's life:
- 2,000 women must be screened for 10 years
- 200 women will get false positives, and
- 10 will receive surgery and/or chemotherapy even though they do not actually have cancer
Just because you were treated for cancer does not mean you’re a cancer survivor. If you really didn’t have cancer to begin with, then you’re really just a “cancer treatment survivor.” Yet all women treated for cancer who survive become part of the “cancer survivor” statistic...
Breast Cancer Prevention Strategies
Cancer screening does NOT equate to cancer prevention, and although early detection is important, using a screening method that in and of itself increases your risk of developing cancer is simply not good medicine... Preventing breast cancer is far more important and powerful than simply trying to detect it after it has already formed, which is why I want to share my top tips on how to help prevent this disease in the first place.
In the largest review of research into lifestyle and breast cancer, the American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that about 40 percent of US breast cancer cases could be prevented if people made wiser lifestyle choices.6, 7 I believe these estimates are far too low, and it is more likely that 75 percent to 90 percent of breast cancers could be avoided by strictly applying the recommendations below.
- Avoid sugar, especially fructose. All forms of sugar are detrimental to health in general and promote cancer. Fructose, however, is clearly one of the most harmful and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Optimize your vitamin D. Vitamin D influences virtually every cell in your body and is one of nature's most potent cancer fighters. Vitamin D is actually able to enter cancer cells and trigger apoptosis (cell death). If you have cancer, your vitamin D level should be between 70 and 100 ng/ml. Vitamin D works synergistically with every cancer treatment I'm aware of, with no adverse effects. I suggest you try watching my one-hour free lecture on vitamin D to learn more.
Remember that if you take oral vitamin D3 supplements, you also need to increase your vitamin K2 intake, as vitamin D increases the need for K2 to function properly. See my previous article What You Need to Know About Vitamin K2, D and Calcium for more information.
Please consider joining one of GrassrootsHealth’s D*Action’s vitamin D studies to stay on top of your vitamin D performance. For more information, see my previous article How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help You Optimize Your Health.
- Get plenty of natural vitamin A. There is evidence that vitamin A also plays a role in helping prevent breast cancer.8 It's best to obtain it from vitamin A-rich foods, rather than a supplement. Your best sources are organic egg yolks,9 raw butter, raw whole milk, and beef or chicken liver.
- Lymphatic breast massage can help enhance your body’s natural ability to eliminate cancerous toxins. This can be applied by a licensed therapists, or you can implement self-lymphatic massage. It is also promotes self-nurturance.
- Avoid charring your meats. Charcoal or flame broiled meat is linked with increased breast cancer risk. Acrylamide—a carcinogen created when starchy foods are baked, roasted or fried—has been found to increase breast cancer risk as well.
- 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.
- Improve your insulin receptor sensitivity. The best way to do this is by avoiding sugar and grains and making sure you are exercising, especially with Peak Fitness.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. This will come naturally when you begin eating right for your nutritional type and exercising. It's important to lose excess body fat because fat produces estrogen.
- Drink a half to whole quart of organic green vegetable juice daily. Please review my juicing instructions for more detailed information.
- Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor for cancer.
- Curcumin. This is the active ingredient in turmeric and in high concentrations can be very useful adjunct in the treatment of breast cancer. It shows immense therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.10 It's important to know that curcumin is generally not absorbed that well, so I've provided several absorption tips here.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, or at least limit your alcoholic drinks to one per day.
- Breastfeed exclusively for up to six months. Research shows breastfeeding can reduce your breast cancer risk.
- Avoid wearing underwire bras. There is a good deal of data that metal underwire bras can heighten your breast cancer risk.
- Avoid electromagnetic fields as much as possible. Even electric blankets can increase your cancer risk.
- Avoid synthetic hormone replacement therapy. Breast cancer is an estrogen-related cancer, and according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer rates for women dropped in tandem with decreased use of hormone replacement therapy. (There are similar risks for younger women who use oral contraceptives. Birth control pills, which are also comprised of synthetic hormones, have been linked to cervical and breast cancers.)
If you are experiencing excessive menopausal symptoms, you may want to consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy instead, which uses hormones that are molecularly identical to the ones your body produces and do not wreak havoc on your system. This is a much safer alternative.
- Avoid BPA, phthalates and other xenoestrogens. These are estrogen-like compounds that have been linked to increased breast cancer risk
- Make sure you're not iodine deficient, as there's compelling evidence linking iodine deficiency with breast cancer. Dr. David Brownstein,11 author of the book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can't Live Without It, is a proponent of iodine for breast cancer. It actually has potent anticancer properties and has been shown to cause cell death in breast and thyroid cancer cells.
For more information, I recommend reading Dr. Brownstein's book. I have been researching iodine for some time ever since I interviewed Dr. Brownstein as I do believe that the bulk of what he states is spot on. However, I am not at all convinced that his dosage recommendations are correct. I believe they are too high.
Take Control of Your Health to Avoid Becoming a Statistic
Many women are completely unaware that the science backing the use of mammograms is sorely lacking, and that more women are being harmed by regular mammograms than are saved by them.
Peter C. Gotzche, MD of the Nordic Cochrane Centre' recently published a groundbreaking book Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy. It offers a comprehensive take on the evidence, and a critical look at the scientiﬁc disputes and the information provided to women by governments and cancer charities. It also explains why mammography screening is unlikely to be effective today.
Many also do not realize that the “new and improved” 3D tomosynthesis mammogram actually ends up exposing you to MORE cancer-causing ionizing radiation than the older version. Please understand that there are other screening options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you have a right to utilize those options. Also remember that in order to truly avoid breast cancer, you need to focus your attention on prevention.