By Dr. Mercola
Early detection through mammography is the annual clarion call of pink-ribboned Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns. October 21 is National Mammography Day — a day during which women are barraged with reminders that getting a mammogram could save their life.
However, little effort has been made to educate women about the crucial differences between non-malignant lesions and invasive or non-invasive cancers detected through this technology.
Instead, the general idea that breast cancer is something you either have or don't have is perpetuated, without any distinctions of its relative risk for harm. Fortunately, there are rays of hope, as both researchers and journalists are starting to speak out against the overuse and risks of mammography.
Ionizing Radiation Is a Cancer RISK — Why Is It Promoted as a Primary 'Prevention' Tool?
First of all, it's important to realize that the ionizing radiation used to discern breast tumors is a risk factor for the development of breast cancer. Additionally, if you do have a malignant tumor, the crushing compression of your breast could potentially cause it to spread.1
Yet you won't see any information about these risks during these pinkwashing campaigns. Nor will you hear that these risks may be magnified if you are genetically predisposed to breast cancer.
In fact, women with BRCA mutation are typically advised to get mammograms every six months or so, which is clearly a recommendation that will increase malignant transformation due to ionizing radiation exposure.
Secondly, the identification of the word "prevention" with "early detection," is a disingenuous way of saying that "all we can do to prevent breast cancer is to detect its inevitable presence sooner than would be possible without this technology."
This is absolute deceptive hogwash as nothing could be further from the truth. Detection is NOT prevention, and really should not be advertised as such.
Pink-Washing Away Preventable Causes of Breast Cancer
The Susan G. Komen Foundation2 has done a great deal of harm to women by obfuscating the authentic preventative measures available to combat breast cancer; downplaying the preventive role of a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables for example, while heavily promoting mammography.
Another atrocious example of this conspiracy against identifying the obvious causes and cures for breast cancer is the National Breast Cancer Foundation's website.3
Type in "carcinogen" in their site wide search box and you will be rewarded with ZERO results. Not a single page addresses the role of carcinogenic chemicals in the development of breast cancer.
On Susan G. Komen's website, the search term "carcinogen" yields just one study on an antidepressant ingredient. The word is not even listed in the breast cancer glossary.
Meanwhile, researchers have identified a number of pervasive chemicals that increase your risk of breast cancer.
Avoiding toxic exposures is one of the rational approaches to successful breast cancer prevention, along with healthy lifestyle strategies such as eating real food, exercising, and optimizing your vitamin D levels.
By hiding the role that your lifestyle and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals play in the development of cancer, these massive organizations can continue to collect billions of dollars of donations every year in the name of "finding a cure."
The Pink Ribbon Scam
As noted by Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, in a Huffington Post article4 published last year:
"Few people realize that Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) was launched by Astra Zeneca, a pharmaceutical company that sells cancer treatments on the one hand and carcinogenic pesticides on the other.
So BCAM has all along been one big marketing campaign — arguably the most successful marketing campaign of the 20th century.
This is why at Breast Cancer Action, we call October 'Breast Cancer Industry Month,' the month when corporations make money professing how much they care about breast cancer by selling pink ribbon products...
How many of the ingredients contained in a random selection of pink products are toxic and bad for our health? No-one knows because of weak chemical regulation in the United States that's outdated...
We can't waste another October watching corporations make money off pink ribbon products that contain toxins linked to breast cancer. If you are outraged, take a stand to protect all of us from toxic chemicals that are making us sick because the manufacturers of pink ribbon products certainly won't."
Breast Cancer Awareness Month Has Produced 'Reckless Misinformation' on Breast Cancer
AstraZeneca was in fact a by-product of one of the world's largest chemical (and carcinogen) producers, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). Before being acquired by AkzoNobel in 2008, ICI produced millions of pounds annually of known mammary carcinogens such as vinyl chloride.
In 1993, ICI demerged its pharmaceutical bioscience businesses to form Zeneca Group, which later merged with Astra AB to form AstraZeneca in 1999. Over the years, a number of experts and organizations have pointed out this glaring conflict of interest:
"A decade-old multi-million dollar deal between National Breast Cancer Awareness Month sponsors and Imperical Chemical Industries (ICI) has produced reckless misinformation on breast cancer,"
– Dr. Samuel Epstein [a leading international authority on cancer-causing effects of environmental pollutants.]
"Imperial Chemical Industries has supported the cancer establishment's blame-the-victim attitude toward the causes of breast and other cancers. This theory attributes escalating cancer rates to heredity and faulty lifestyle, rather than avoidable exposures to industrial carcinogens contaminating air, water, food, consumer products, and the workplace."
– Cancer Prevention Coalition
False Positives Create Pseudo-Survivors of 'Breast Cancer'
Mammography can detect invasive breast cancer in women. This is not in dispute. What IS in dispute is whether or not routine mammograms are really the right tool to reduce breast cancer rates, and whether it might harm more women than it helps in the process. A growing body of evidence suggests that it does in fact, on the whole, do more harm than good by generating high rates of false positives.
A woman receiving a false positive diagnosis undergoes the same emotional trauma as those with an accurate diagnosis, and this trauma cannot (and should not) be trivialized. According to a Swedish study,5,6 of 400 women who received a false positive before later being found to be cancer-free:
- 88 percent felt dejected, sad, or "unable to cope"
- 83 percent suffered anxiety
- 67 percent experienced behavioral changes, such as trouble dealing with work or spare time
- 53 percent had trouble sleeping
Those who opt for aggressive treatment such as a mastectomy, radiation, and/or chemotherapy after a false positive diagnosis also undergo physical pain and suffering "for nothing." Yet women who believe their lives were saved by mammography are hard-pressed to buy into the idea that routine mammograms are more harmful than helpful.
But as recently addressed by Forbes magazine in an article7 titled, "Has Mammography Created An Epidemic Of Pseudo-Survivorship?" many women who believe they're breast cancer survivors may not have had a life-threatening tumor at all... They're not survivors of breast cancer; they're survivors of breast cancer treatment.
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ — Is it Actually Cancer?
Forbes8 specifically addresses the issue of stage zero cancer known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which refers to the abnormal growth of cells forming a lesion that is typically between 1 to 1.5 cm in diameter. About 25 percent (approximately 60,000 cases each year) of all new breast cancer diagnoses obtained through mammography fall in this category.9
Some experts have argued DCIS should be reclassified as a non-cancerous condition, yet proponents of mammography claim they're "saving lives" through the "early detection" and treatment of DCIS. They view DCIS as "pre-cancerous" and argue that, because it could eventually cause harm if left untreated it should be treated in the same aggressive manner as invasive cancer.
The problem with this approach is that the weight of evidence indicates less than half of DCIS cases ever progress to invasive cancer, and in many cases, taking no action beyond "watchful waiting" is the best course of action. As reported by Time Magazine,10 a study published in August found that "no matter how a woman is treated for DCIS, the mortality risk is 3 percent – similar to the average for the general population. " The article also points out the problem with referring to non-invasive lesions like DCIS as "cancer:"
"Cancer has a language problem – not just in the way we speak about it, as a war that drafts soldiers who never signed up for it, who do battle and win, or do battle and lose. There's also the problem of the word itself. A 57-year-old woman with low-grade DCIS that will almost certainly never become invasive hears the same word as the 34-year-old woman who has metastatic malignancies that will kill her. That's confusing to patients conditioned to treat every cancer diagnosis as an emergency..."
Mammography Fuels Fear by Falsely Inflating Breast Cancer Rates
One study found that at the 40-year follow-up period, 40 percent of DCIS lesions still had no signs of invasiveness. Adding even more uncertainty, another study showed that coexisting DCIS independently predicts lower tumor aggressiveness in node-positive luminal breast cancer, suggesting it may have a protective role.
The irony is that while participation in X-ray mammography is considered a form of breast cancer prevention, it has become a very effective way of manufacturing false breast cancer diagnoses and justifying completely unnecessary treatment. As noted by Forbes,11 in which the harrowing story of a woman treated for DCIS is detailed:
"[D]espite increasing evidence of the significant harms of mammography, compared to its relatively modest benefits, many American women dutifully continue to receive annual tests. Why do they remain enthusiastic about mammography? In large part because many women who were harmed by mammography believe the opposite.
By identifying non-invasive lesions... mammography has created a community of women incorrectly convinced that the test saved their lives... The survivorship community strongly advocates for aggressive breast cancer screening, a somewhat ironic situation given that many experts consider aggressive screening programs to have artificially expanded the number of women now identifying themselves as survivors."
New Tools and Studies That May Improve Treatment Decisions
New tools have emerged that may help in making treatment decisions following a diagnosis of breast cancer. These include genetic tests, such as:12
- Oncotype DX, which may help determine how well your tumor might respond to chemotherapy
- Oncotype DX DCIS, which offers an indication of your risk for recurrence of DCIS, and whether radiation therapy following a lumpectomy might be beneficial
A DCIS registry is also being created at five University of California medical centers. Women diagnosed with DCIS at these facilities will be given the option of active surveillance, and will be tracked over time to evaluate the outcomes of various treatment options for DCIS. Researchers have also launched a study aimed at learning more about screening.
The WISDOM study, led by breast cancer surgeon Dr. Laura J. Esserman — an outspoken opponent of overdiagnosis and overtreatment — will randomly assign women with DCIS to receive either annual mammography screening or a personalized screening approach. As reported by The New York Times,13 which recently profiled Dr. Esserman's more cautious approach to breast cancer treatment:
"[L]ast month, her approach was given a boost by a long-term study14 published in the journal JAMA Oncology. The analysis of 20 years of patient data made the case for a less aggressive approach to treating... DCIS, for which the current practice is nearly always surgery, and often radiation. The results suggest that the form of treatment may make no difference in outcomes...
So convinced is Dr. Esserman that most patients will not benefit from early detection of such lesions that she has recommended to the National Cancer Institute that for many DCIS lesions, the ominous word 'carcinoma' be dropped from the medical term for them and that they be renamed 'indolent lesions of epithelial origin,' or IDLEs."
Adding Computer Analysis to Mammograms Doesn't Improve Accuracy
Every time we write a disparaging article on mammograms many women comment that they believe in them because they saved their life. While I am delighted they were able to avoid dying from breast cancer, that view fails to consider the broader picture that more and more studies confirm, which is that overall mammograms cause far more damage than good. Even newer mammogram revisions are proving to be poor at detecting cancer and improving outcomes.
For example, computer-aided detection (CAD) for mammography, which is used in 90 percent of US mammograms at a cost of $400 million a year, does nothing to improve the accuracy of the test, according to a recent study.15,16,17,18,19
The study looked at more than 625,000 mammograms from nearly 324,000 women to determine whether CAD actually improves a radiologist's interpretation of a mammogram or not. As it turns out, CAD had no beneficial impact on mammography interpretation, leading the authors to conclude that: "These results suggest that insurers pay more for CAD with no established benefit to women."
In fact, radiologists were more prone to miss cancer when using CAD compared to when not using it. Overall, radiologists correctly identified cancer 90 percent of the time when CAD was not used, and only 83 percent of the time when they used CAD.
Two New Studies Refute the Value of Mammograms
Last but certainly not least, I want to bring attention to two new studies that refute the validity of mammography as a primary tool against breast cancer. The first, published in JAMA Internal Medicine20,21 on July 6, 2015, confirmed previous findings showing mammography screenings lead to unnecessary treatments while having virtually no impact on the number of deaths from breast cancer.
Previous research22 has shown that for every life saved by mammography screening, three women will be overdiagnosed and treated with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy for a cancer that might never have given them trouble in their lifetimes. In the new JAMA study, a positive correlation between breast cancer screening and breast cancer incidence was again found, but there was no positive correlation with mortality.
The second study23,24,25 published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine declares its conclusion right in the title, which reads: "Mammography screening is harmful and should be abandoned." In short, decades of routine breast cancer screening using mammograms has done nothing to decrease deaths from breast cancer, while causing more than half (52 percent) of all women undergoing the test to be overdiagnosed and overtreated. According to lead author Peter C Gøtzsche, had mammograms been a drug, "it would have been withdrawn from the market long ago."
Cancer Prevention Begins With Your Lifestyle Choices
Mammograms are portrayed as the best form of "prevention" a woman can get. But early diagnosis is not the same as prevention. And cancer screening that does more harm than good can hardly qualify as the best you can hope for... I believe the vast majority of all cancers could be prevented by strictly applying basic, common-sense, and healthy lifestyle strategies, such as the ones below:
- Eat real food; avoid processed foods and sugars, especially processed 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.
- Stop eating AT LEAST three hours before going to bed. There is quite compelling evidence showing that when you supply fuel to the mitochondria in your cells at a time when they don't need it, they will leak a large number of electrons that will liberate reactive oxygen species (free radicals), which damage mitochondrial and eventually nuclear DNA. There is also evidence to indicate that cancer cells uniformly have damaged mitochondria, so the last thing you want to do is eat before you go to bed. Personally, I strive for six hours of fasting before bedtime.
- 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.
- Limit your protein. Newer research has emphasized the importance of the mTOR pathways. When these are active, cancer growth is accelerated. To quiet this pathway, I believe it may be wise to limit your protein to one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, or roughly a bit less than half a gram of protein per every pound of lean body weight.
- 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 and leptin receptor sensitivity. The best way to do this is by avoiding sugar and grains and restricting carbs to mostly fiber vegetables. Also making sure you are exercising, especially with high-intensity interval training.
- Exercise regularly. One of the primary reasons exercise works to lower your cancer risk is because it drives your insulin levels down, and controlling your insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your cancer risks. It's also been suggested that apoptosis (programmed cell death) is triggered by exercise, causing cancer cells to die. Studies have also found that the number of tumors decrease along with body fat, which may be an additional factor. This is because exercise helps lower your estrogen levels, which explains why exercise appears to be particularly potent against breast cancer.
- 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 pint to a 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.
- Use curcumin. This is the active ingredient in turmeric and in high concentrations can be very useful adjunct in the treatment of cancer.For example, it has demonstrated major therapeutic potential in preventing breast cancer metastasis.26 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.
- Avoid electromagnetic fields as much as possible. Even electric blankets can increase your cancer risk.
- Avoid synthetic hormone replacement therapy, especially if you have risk factors for breast cancer. 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 certain forms of cancer. Dr. David Brownstein,27 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.
- 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 cancer risk as well.