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.