The new government recommendation that women don’t need mammograms before age 50 and then only every two years is a smart one, but not for the reasons cited by the government panel.
The whole thing is explained in simple terms in a book I wrote with Dr. Ben Johnson two years ago.
Here’s an excerpt from The Secret of Health: Breast Wisdom (Morgan James 2007):
Doctors and the medical community have pounded this into our heads throughout our reproductive lives:
You need an annual mammogram from the time you are 40 on, they’ll tell you.
For more than two decades, these painful annual screenings have become a way of life for millions of women.
They’ll tell you mammograms can reduce your chances of dying from breast cancer by about 30 percent by helping detect early stage breast cancers too small for your monthly breast self-examination to detect.
What your doctor won’t tell you is that there is no evidence that screening for breast cancer with mammograms saves women’s lives. It is interesting to note that although mammography does lead to the discovery of smaller, earlier-stage cancerous tumors, it still does not improve breast cancer survival rates over physical examination alone.
What your doctor won’t tell you is that a mammogram exposes you to approximately 1,000 times the amount of radiation you’d get in a chest X-ray. If that’s not enough, the radiation is stored in your cells and so it accumulates to astronomical levels over time if you’re getting an annual mammogram.
What your doctor won’t tell you is that the extreme compression of your breast tissues in a mammography machine can damage delicate breast tissue and may even rupture cancerous tumors and seed them throughout your breast where they can grow and spread.
European experts who reviewed the health benefits of mammograms were unable to find any evidence at all for their benefit all the way back in 2001, undermining in the findings of the initial study on which modern mammograms are justified.
And the nation’s largest medical specialty group, the American College of Physicians, recently issued new guidelines questioning the wisdom of having mammograms, particularly for women between 40 and 50. The 120,000-member association that represents internists said the risks of mammography may outweigh its benefits.
Another recent study found that a costly computerized system to help read mammograms was no better at finding cancer than traditional mammography and led to many more false alarms. The computerized systems are used in some 30 percent of all mammography centers, where they are driving up costs for no clear benefit. Government and private insurers have been urged to reconsider whether the systems are worth covering.
And finally, the National Cancer Institute admits that monthly breast self-examinations following a brief training, in conjunction with annual clinical breast examinations by a trained health care professional, are at least as effective as mammography.
Want more evidence? An article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute nearly seven years ago said that the more mammograms a woman has had, the greater the chance she will get a result known in medical terms as a “false positive.” That means that the radiologist who reads the mammogram sees a suspicious change in the breast tissue.
False positives, which ultimately turn out to be benign or non-cancerous, usually end up with a woman having further testing, including biopsies and even needless lumpectomies and mastectomies. And they lead to needless stress.
The study of patients at Harvard hospitals in 2000 reported that if a woman has had 10 mammograms, there is a 50 percent chance she will get a false positive. Worse yet, women with high risk factors for breast cancer had a 100 percent false positive rate. That means every single one had at least one breast cancer scare that turned out to be baseless.
The American Cancer Society guidelines recommends all women over age 40 have a screening mammogram every year, so by the time a woman reaches age 50, she would have had nine mammograms and quite likely at least one false positive.
We think mammograms are highly detrimental to your body, mind and spirit. We recommend that you avoid them at all costs.
Fortunately there is a safe and effective alternative to mammograms that few of know about, let alone our doctors.
I’ll post in detail about thermograms soon. Stay tuned.