By Dr. Mercola
Breast cancer has become big business, and routine mammography is one of its primary profit centers. While mammograms are touted as the best way to prevent breast cancer death, studies suggest otherwise.
The fact that you are reading this article gives you an enormous advantage, as most women are unaware of the mounting research indicating routine mammograms harm far more women than they save.
Despite the facts, the industry is fighting tooth and nail to keep mammography alive by downplaying or outright ignoring its significant risks.
One of industry’s latest tactics is introducing a “new and improved” type of mammogram called 3D tomosynthesis, which is basically a CT scan for your breasts. Tomosynthesis is a clever re-branding of the status quo.
The multi-millions of dollars spent on creating these invasive machines could have been better utilized for educating women about cancer prevention; developing less dangerous technologies, such as ultrasound and infrared imaging; and inventing completely new and safer technologies.
3D Tomosynthesis: Three Steps Down on the Ladder of Progress
Two of the greatest mammogram risks are high radiation exposure and compression of breast tissue, which potentially causes cancer cells to spread. 3D tomosynthesis does not reduce or eliminate either of these risks!
In fact, with this “new and improved” technology, your radiation exposure is even greater than from standard mammograms—and by a significant margin. This is disturbing, as we know that all levels of ionizing radiation can cause cancer.
According to one study,1 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 mammograms. Meaning, annual mammograms cause 20-25 cases of fatal cancer for every 100,000 women getting the test.
The 3D mammogram requires multiple views in order to achieve three-dimensionality, so it stands to reason your total radiation exposure would be considerably higher than from a standard 2D mammogram.
With mammography, each breast is X-rayed at least twice—once from top to bottom and once diagonally from the outside in. With tomosynthesis, the X-ray tube rotates around the breast. Twenty-five exposures are taken, with up to two pictures per second. Multiple images result in higher radiation exposure. But the picture gets even worse...
3D mammography is not a stand-alone diagnostic test—it’s typically an add-on to the standard mammogram. So, not only do these 3D images prolong your exposure to radiation, but if you’ve already had a regular mammogram, they further compound your risk. This is certainly NOT progress—it’s a huge step backward, making breast cancer screening even more dangerous than before.
3D Mammograms May Actually TRIPLE Your Radiation Dose
Just how much more radiation are you getting with these new 3D mammograms? There are different estimates in circulation, partly because some folks are not including the radiation exposure from the standard mammogram into the total. When you add the 2D and 3D scans together, utilizing tomosynthesis at least doubles your radiation exposure, and some estimates have your exposure tripling, such as this 2011 study published in Radiology Today,2 which states that:
"Because the digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) exam requires two additional exposures over a standard mammogram, the total radiation dose from the combined 2D and tomosynthesis examination is three times that of a standard mammogram."
The authors note that both scans (2D and 3D) are required because studies done prior to FDA approval failed to conclusively show better sensitivity of 3D alone, compared to 2D imaging.3 They also state that it’s too early to know how useful this new breast imaging technology will be. Some insurance companies—Aetna4 for one—have rejected it, citing “insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.”
The bottom line is, the industry reports tomosynthesis has 1.5 to 2 times the radiation dose. The FDA reports it has double the dose. And the radiologists, who are looking at total exposure, report triple the dose over conventional mammograms. You can see this comparison in a chart on page 8 of an FDA Executive Summary, “Average Glandular Dose per Breast.”5
Tomosynthesis is being touted by the industry as being particularly helpful for identifying cancer in women with dense breast tissue. However, these women already have a four to six times greater risk of developing breast cancer. Knowing that ionizing radiation is a direct cause of cancer, how can a test that triples your radiation exposure be of any benefit if you have potentially cancer-prone breasts to begin with?
Smarter CT Scanning of Kids Would Prevent Over 3,000 Childhood Cancers Each Year
Women are not the only ones being excessively irradiated with unnecessary medical scans. Children are receiving more CT scans than ever, and CTs expose them to much more radiation than standard X-rays. The average American child gets seven radiation scans by the age of 18.
One CT scan exposes your child to 100 to 500 times more ionizing radiation than a standard X-ray. Your child’s growing body is even more sensitive to radiation than yours, being more likely to develop radiation-induced cancers, such as leukemia and cancers of the brain, lungs, thyroid and colon.
Previous studies have estimated that at least one-third of CT scans in children are medically unnecessary. How many children could be saved from cancer if these unnecessary CTs were eliminated and replaced with safer diagnostic tests? A team of researchers actually set out to answer this question. They calculated that smarter CT scanning of kids would prevent 3,020 children from developing radiation-induced cancers each year.6
Did You Know That 30 Percent of Breast Tumors Go Away on Their Own?
Getting back to breast cancer, it is important to realize that, if your immune system is healthy and strong, it’s capable of ridding your body of tumors—even cancerous ones. According to breast surgeon Susan Love of UCLA, at least 30 percent of tumors found on mammograms would go away if you did absolutely nothing.7 These tumors appear to be destined to stop growing on their own, shrink, and even go away completely. Nearly everyone has cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in their bodies by middle age, but not everyone develops cancer. 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, especially mega sources such as these new 3D scans and CTs. But you can also build up your immune system DAILY by making good diet and lifestyle choices.
Breast Cancer Prevention Strategies
Cancer screening does NOT equate to cancer prevention. Although early detection is important, using a screening method that in and of itself increases your risk of 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. 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, and I believe that estimate is far too conservative.8, 9 Below are my top breast cancer prevention strategies.
- 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 Levels. 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 probably 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.
Please consider joining one of GrassrootsHealth’s D*Action 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 Vitamin K2. Remember that if you opt for 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.
- Get plenty of natural vitamin A. There is evidence vitamin A also plays a role in helping prevent breast cancer. 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.
- Lymphatic breast massage can help enhance your body’s natural ability to eliminate cancerous toxins. This can be performed by a licensed therapist, or you can learn to do it yourself.
- 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 optimize your diet and exercise. It's important to lose excess body fat because fat produces estrogen. One of the most effective strategies I’ve found for this is intermittent fasting.
- 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. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin in high concentrations shows immense therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.
- 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 increase 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 breast cancer. An alarming new study about glyphosate (the active chemical in Roundup weed killer) found it to be highly estrogenic, driving breast cancer cell proliferation at extremely low exposures—in the parts-per-trillion range.10
- Make sure you're not iodine deficient, as there's compelling evidence linking iodine deficiency with breast cancer.
- Get enough sleep: Proper sleep is essential for optimal health, and it helps metabolize stress hormones better than any other known entity.
- Epsom salt baths (20 minutes, three times per week) are a simple, inexpensive way to get magnesium into your body.
Take Control of Your Health to Avoid Becoming a Statistic
Most women are unaware of the mounting research indicating routine mammograms harm far more women than they save. Many also don’t realize the “new and improved” 3D tomosynthesis mammogram actually ends up exposing them to more cancer-causing 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 them all. Also remember that in order to truly avoid breast cancer, you need to focus your attention on truly preventative strategies, which may necessitate your making some lifestyle changes.
Educating yourself is a major part of being proactive with your health. Peter C. Gotzche, MD of the Nordic Cochrane Centre recently published a groundbreaking book, Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy.11 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.