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A new study came out recently challenging the value of breast screening with mammography. Not surprisingly it points to a serious problem of over diagnosis related to mammography screening. In other words, women are being diagnosed and aggressively treated for breast cancer even though what was found in the mammogram was never going to be a life threatening health problem. 

 

However, even more stunning, this study concludes that “Breast cancer screening was not associated with a reduction in the incidence of advanced cancer.”  Wow, think about this for a moment and consider what this means. It blows the entire paradigm of 'early detection saves lives' completely out of the water.

 

Please follow the links below to the published study and come to your own conclusions:

 

http://www.healthimaging.com/topics/womens-health/breast-imaging/danish-study-challenges-value-screening-mammography-draws-sharp-criticism-us-orgs

 

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/one-three-women-diagnosed-breast-cancer-wrongly-study-n704941

 

It is important to understand the limitations of mammography screening and focus more on prevention. When it comes to prevention, there are many options available to you. Many of the blog postings and articles on this site are related to the subject of breast cancer prevention. I invite you to explore them.

 

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This year close to 250,000 women in North America will die from breast cancer. This is not just a mere number; these are our mothers, spouses, sisters and daughters that are afflicted by this disease.  Despite all of the efforts to reduce this tragedy, more and more women and their families are affected by breast cancer today. 

 

Currently the strategy of screening is not enough to protect women from breast cancer.

We need to refocus our strategy; moving from screening to risk assessment. Simply put - screening can only tell us what already happened (detection). Risk assessment, on the other hand, can tell us what is about to happen (prevention). It is a paradigm shift where prevention beats detection all the time.

 

Think about it, if you are heading in the wrong direction concerning your breast health wouldn’t you want to know this at the earliest possible time? 

Yes, every woman should know her risk for breast cancer. 

 

Mammography can be useful as a diagnostic tool when necessary but as a mass screening method it has not been effective. Mammography has been the most controversial test for the past 40 years.  Women have been deceived by the notion that routine mammography screening saves lives. It does not. Numerous long-term studies question the effectiveness of mammography mass screening since cancer is frequently missed or often over-diagnosed. 1. 2. 3. 

Younger women with dense breast tissue along with women with fibrocystic breast condition derive little or no benefit from conventional screening with mammography. Even women over the age of 50 may not benefit from mammography screening since it takes 8 to 9 years or longer for a tumor to grow to a size that is detectable by a mammogram. This is hardly an early detection paradigm that we were led to believe; this is in fact late detection. 

 

I have been advocating for many years that we need a more personalized approach where women can assess their risk for breast cancer.  Once they are able to determine their risk factors they can develop an action plan on how to improve breast health or even reverse the existing trend. Breast Thermography can play a great role in early detection and risk assessment. Breast thermography is non-invasive, radiation-free and a completely safe method that compliments all other types of breast testing modalities. 

 

Breast Thermography evaluates how breasts function and can give an early warning signal that may be life saving. Once the risk level is assessed with breast thermography you can develop strategies of lowering these factors before cancer has a chance to develop. You can also monitor your treatment progress with breast thermography and see if you’re on the right path or if you need to make some adjustments to your therapy. When used correctly, breast thermography can be an indispensable tool in breast health monitoring and over-all breast cancer prevention plans. 

 

Prevention should take precedence over detection. Prevention means not getting cancer in the first place. If we are going to reverse the present trend of the epidemic proportion of breast cancer, we need to come up with a more proactive approach, which needs to become the norm for patient assessment.

 

Take charge of your health today, be proactive and help others to prevent breast cancer NOW!

 

 

1. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1206809#t=article

2. http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.g7773

3. http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2015/07/20/does-mammography-save-lives-thats-a-harder-question-than-most-think/)

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Mammography is really the gold standard of breast screening according to the dominant opinion of medical experts. It is time to begin thinking beyond the closed box of mammography. Like other screening technologies, it has a specific set of disadvantages and advantages. Women should be encouraged to assess for themselves whether mammography is appropriate for them, rather than having it imposed upon them as a screening mechanism ‘in their best interest’. 

 

What is mammography? It is a form of screening that has been used since the 1970s in North American and most European countries. Essentially, the breasts are squished between two plates horizontally, as well as obliquely, in order to x-ray in each position. 

 

Given the prevalent use of mammography, it is important to understand the dangers that it presents. One danger is the actual compression and the potential injury that can cause; after all, this is about 70 pounds of weight pressing on your breast. And, of course, it may not be the most beneficial thing for you if in fact something is growing in your breast. Over the years, I have heard many, many women say, “I had trauma to my breast,” or “My breasts were blue for the next two weeks after the mammogram”. These complaints should not be ignored. 

 

Another danger is the substantial amount of radiation to which a woman is exposed during a mammogram. Even though the mammography industry suggests that the radiation is minimal––that it’s equivalent to an airplane trip––this is nonsense. With a chest x-ray, you’re looking at a level of 0.10 mSv of radiation exposure. With mammography, you’re looking at four times the radiation exposure! Radiation in a mammogram is actually concentrated over a smaller area compared to a chest x-ray and four images are taken for each breast. These four images are equal to one rad. (The Rad is a deprecated unit of absorbed radiation dose). Of course, annual screening over ten years will give us ten rads [of] radiation exposure for each breast; twenty rads in total!

 

Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor Emeritus at University of Illinois, School Public Health in Chicago, a well-known researcher who has published widely on breast cancer prevention, has actually suggested that ten rads (of cumulative exposure) is equivalent to someone standing within a mile of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. So to say that it has absolutely no effect is just wishful (and dangerous) thinking. I become very frustrated when I see studies claiming that only one in a million women will actually get breast cancer from radiation. See full article by Dr. Epstein called - Breast Cancer Unawareness Month: Rethinking Mammograms

 

Keep in mind that exposure to radiation is much more dangerous for younger women (those under 50 and especially under 40), as each rad increases the risk of breast cancer by 1%. So now we have a common occurrence where someone with fibrocystic breast and maybe a family history of breast cancer is encouraged to “be proactive”––meaning, to go every 6 months for a mammogram. Same woman is going to have 40 x-ray exams over the next 20 years. Practically, this means we have just escalated her risk by 40%, never mind the potential physical injury to the breast. Keep in mind too that about 2% of women actually have a particular gene (BRCA1, BRCA2, CHEK2, and ATM) that renders them four times more susceptible to radiation exposure. Women can be tested for this gene. It’s troubling that before sending women en masse for annual mammograms, health professionals are not even testing for this susceptibility. 

 

In 2006 a paper was published in the British Journal of Radiobiology entitled “Enhanced Biological Effectiveness of Low Energy X-rays and Implications for the UK Breast Training Program that provided solid evidence about the damage done by mammograms.  The authors argued that recent radiological studies have proved compellingly that the low energy x-rays used in mammography are approximately four times––but possibly as much as six times––more effective in causing mutational damage than high energy x-rays. In other words, since radiation estimates are based on the effect of high energy gamma radiation, this implies that the risks of radiation-induced breast cancer for mammography are underestimated by the same factor. However, this is not something that the mammography and cancer lobby wants you to know. This is something that they’re concealing from you.  This is important information and you have the right to know.

 

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Does Early Detection Save Lives?

Posted by on in Breast Health

When we think about screening for breast cancer most will automatically think about mammography as a primary screening test.  The recently published Canadian National Breast Screening Study particularly looked at mammography screening and the results have been very disturbing. This study was conducted from 1980 to 2005, over 25 years and included 90,000 women. This was one of the largest and well-designed studies in the world that looked at the efficacy of mammography screening and the reduction of death from breast cancer.

 

The results were quite startling that, after 25 years of follow up, breast cancer deaths were almost identical between the mammography group and the control (non-mammography) group. Further, even when looking at deaths that occurred during the screening period in the first five years the numbers between the two groups were identical. Thus there was absolutely no benefit from the mammography screening for women age 40 to 49 as well as for women age 50 to 59.  (see BMJ)

 

These findings are really important and hopefully will change the way we screen for breast cancer. It is important to note that The Swiss Medical Board recently also recommended that mammography screening should be abolished while presenting the same conclusion. (see Swiss) However, it is not just the ineffectiveness of mammography screening that is problematic but also the potential harm from this way of screening needs to be addressed. 

 

Using the data from the 25 Year Canadian National Breast Cancer Screening (CNBSS) we can see that many women are told that they don’t have cancer, and therefore getting false reassurance. Further, there are complications from the investigation of false positive tests. The use of mammography increases the false positive rate.  Another useful point to consider is that the mere finding of cancer, as a result of a screening test, does not necessarily imply benefit. Some detected cancers are simply not curable by available treatment. And in other cases, some detected cancer may never have become life-threatening in the patient’s lifetime either because they are cured on their own or they are over diagnosed.

 

It is important to understand how over diagnosis occurs in mammography screening. In some cases, breast cancer would regress spontaneously if left alone and would not have continued to grow. In other cases, cancer progresses very slow to be threatening even in the longest of lifetimes. The body’s defense mechanism comes into play and arrests the rapid growth of such cancers. Thus the problem of over diagnosis is not something that should be taken lightly as it presents a serious problem. It appears that 22% of screen-detected cases were over diagnosed and 50% of impalpable cases detected by mammography were over diagnosed. In other words, 1 in 424 women who received mammography screening were over diagnosed with invasive breast cancer yet they had no life-threatening disease!

 

Estimates for non-invasive breast cancers such as Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS) and Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) present us with even more dramatic results. It is assumed that there is a great benefit of surgically removing these lesions because it prevents them from becoming invasive; yet unlike other cancers, it has never been demonstrated that it is true for breast cancer. Based on the CNBSS numbers it has been shown that when it comes to in situ cancers 35% of screen detected cases are over diagnosed and an astounding 72% of impalpable cases detected by mammography are over diagnosed.

 

The implications for over diagnosis and over treatment are very serious. It shows us that the amount of lead-time gained by mammography has been wrong all along; it is only one year versus previously assumed four years. It is not surprising that all this screening does not impact mortality rates because you can only backdate cancer by one year with the use of mammography. Breast cancer takes a long time to develop and cancer detection by mammography occurs not earlier than in year 8 or 9 in the progression of this disease; hardly an early detection by any standard.  There is definitely a need to develop and use other available technologies to identify breast cancer much earlier. 

 

I have been advocating the use of breast thermography in conjunction with other screening modalities for many years now. Breast thermography is not a stand-alone screening test for breast cancer and should never be used on its own. However, breast thermography can provide us with a very early sign of breast abnormalities that can lead to breast cancer. An abnormal breast thermography image is the single most important marker of high risk for developing breast cancer. In my view, it would be more beneficial and far more economical to use breast thermography to identify a high-risk group of women that will need additional testing and higher levels of conventional follow up.  This group can be additionally screened using frequent breast examinations, regular hormone testing, other biomarkers associated with high risk for breast cancer, along with ultrasound and diagnostic mammography when necessary. 

 

There is no need to settle for existing problems using mass screening mammography that at best appears to be ineffective and at worst downright harmful. Many will say that mammography is not perfect but this is the only test that we have available and no matter the problems associated with mammography screening, the benefits outweigh the problems. Clearly this is no longer the case and it never was. This belief system is outdated and needs to change based on scientific evidence presented. It is imperative to rethink our approach to breast cancer and use all available technologies appropriately. If we seriously want to save lives,  we need to incorporate the use of breast thermography as another useful marker in breast cancer detection and prevention plan.

 

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