Avoid Routine Mammograms if You are Under 50

According to updated guidelines set forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, women in their 40’s should not get routine mammograms for early detection of breast cancer.

The group's previous recommendation was for routine screenings every year or two for women age 40 and older. They now recommend that before having a mammogram, women ages 40 to 49 should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of the test, and then decide if they want to be screened.

While roughly 15 percent of women in their 40’s detect breast cancer through mammography, many other women experience false positives, anxiety, and unnecessary biopsies as a result of the test, according to data.

The Obama administration distanced itself from the new standards, saying government insurance programs would continue to cover routine mammograms for women starting at age 40.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

A new recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is stirring up controversy in the conventional medical community, where the long-held advice was for women to get a mammogram every year or two after age 40.

Now the Task Force has revised their recommendation, saying that women in their 40s should not get routine mammograms.

The new advice is a small step in the right direction, but many are up in arms, fearing a decrease in mammograms will put women’s lives at risk from breast cancer, or that insurance companies will stop covering the procedure until a woman reaches age 50.

What is being completely overlooked by the majority of media outlets, however, is the reason WHY the Task Force decided to trim their mammogram recommendation. The prior advice was given in 2002, before a host of new research came out showing the problems of overdiagnosis, including false positives.

Back in 2001, around the time that U.S. health officials widened the use of mammograms to included women over 40 (previously it was only women over 50), a Danish study published in The Lancet revealed some startling data.

The study concluded that previous research showing a benefit was flawed and that widespread mammogram screening is unjustified.

That mammograms are still recommended at all speaks volumes about the state of modern medicine.

Decades ago in 1974, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was warned by professor Malcolm C. Pike at the University of Southern California School of Medicine that a number of specialists had concluded "giving a women under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical."

Why is Routine Mammography “Unethical”?

For starters mammograms expose your body to radiation that can be 1,000 times greater than that from a chest x-ray, which poses risks of cancer. Mammography also compresses your breasts tightly, and often painfully, which could lead to a lethal spread of cancerous cells, should they exist.

Dr. Samuel Epstein, one of the top cancer experts, stated:

“The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad exposure increasing breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade's screening.”

Dr. Epstein, M.D., professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, has been speaking out about the risks of mammography since at least 1992. As for how these misguided mammography guidelines came about, Epstein says:

“They were conscious, chosen, politically expedient acts by a small group of people for the sake of their own power, prestige and financial gain, resulting in suffering and death for millions of women. They fit the classification of "crimes against humanity."”

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 this didn’t stop others from speaking out as well.

  • In July 1995, The Lancet again wrote about mammograms, saying "The benefit is marginal, the harm caused is substantial, and the costs incurred are enormous ..."

  • Dr. Charles B. Simone, a former clinical associate in immunology and pharmacology at the National Cancer Institute, said, "Mammograms increase the risk for developing breast cancer and raise the risk of spreading or metastasizing an existing growth.”

  • "The high sensitivity of the breast, especially in young women, to radiation-induced cancer was known by 1970. Nevertheless, the establishment then screened some 300,000 women with Xray dosages so high as to increase breast cancer risk by up to 20 percent in women aged 40 to 50 who were mammogramed annually,” wrote Dr. Epstein.

Mammograms Often Give False Positives

Aside from the radiation risks, mammograms carry a first-time false positive rate of up to 6 percent. False positives can lead to expensive repeat screenings and can sometimes result in unnecessary invasive procedures including biopsies and surgeries.

Just thinking you may have breast cancer, when you really do not, focuses your mind on fear and disease, and is actually enough to trigger an illness in your body. So a false positive on a mammogram, or an unnecessary biopsy, can really be damaging.

Not to mention that women have unnecessarily undergone mastectomies, radiation and chemotherapy after receiving false positives on a mammogram.

What about Breast Self-Exams?

The revised U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations also discourage doctors from teaching breast self-examination (BSE).

BSEs have long been recommended as a simple way for women to keep track of anything unusual in their breasts. However, studies have found that such exams do not reduce breast cancer death rates, and actually increase the rate of unnecessary biopsies.

So the problem with breast self-exams is that it typically forces women into a conventional, and potentially dangerous, diagnostic model, as if you do find something unusual, you will typically be brought in for a mammogram.

A Safer Breast Screening Option

Most physicians continue to recommend mammograms for fear of being sued by a woman who develops breast cancer after he did not advise her to get one. But I encourage you to think for yourself and consider safer, more effective alternatives to mammograms.

The option for breast screening that I most highly recommend is called thermographic breast screening.

Thermographic screening is brilliantly simple. It measures the radiation of infrared heat from your body and translates this information into anatomical images. Your normal blood circulation is under the control of your autonomic nervous system, which governs your body functions.

Thermography uses no mechanical pressure or ionizing radiation.

More men’s lives could also be spared from the disease as mammography is not frequently used on men, which leads to most men with breast cancer being diagnosed at a very late stage

Top Breast Cancer Prevention Tips

Women have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime. In fact, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women -- except for skin cancers -- and the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that over 192,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed in women in 2009, and over 40,000 will die from it.

While screening tools can help you to detect breast cancer, they obviously do nothing to help prevent the disease, and this latter strategy is the best one for avoiding cancer.

Researchers estimate that about 40 percent of U.S. breast cancer cases, or about 70,000 cases every year, could be prevented by making lifestyle changes.

A healthy diet, physical exercise, optimized vitamin D levels and an effective way to manage your emotional health are the cornerstones of just about any cancer prevention program.

It’s also important to make sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil.

Two studies from 2002 offer explanations for how omega-3 fats can protect against breast cancer. BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) are two tumor suppressor genes that, when functioning normally, help repair DNA damage (a process that also prevents tumor development).

Earlier research had discovered that women who carry mutated versions of these two genes are at higher risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer than women who do not have these genetic mutations. Currently, women with BRCA1 mutations account for about 5 percent of all breast cancer cases. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats have been found to influence these two genes.

Omega-3 fats tend to reduce cancer cell growth while highly processed and toxic omega-6 fats have been found to cause cancer growth.

Three additional steps that can lower your breast cancer risk as well include:

  • Not drinking alcohol, or limiting your drinks to one a day for women

  • Breastfeeding exclusively for up to six months

  • Watching out for excessive iron levels. This is actually very common once women stop menstruating. The extra iron actually works as a powerful oxidant, increasing free radicals and raising your risk of cancer.

All you need to do is measure your ferritin level and if it is above 80, donate blood, which will reduce the amount of iron that you have and thereby lower your cancer risk.