A reality check on breast cancer

Once again  experts have warned  women that they risk  having a breast cancer detected and treated that would never have caused them harm. Their findings  published in The Lancet conclude that although screening reduced the chance of dying from breast cancer by 20 per cent, about 19 per cent of the cancers picked up in mammograms were ”over-diagnoses” – cancer that would not have otherwise become clinically apparent in the woman’s lifetime. This is quite a considerable admission when you consider that these overdiagnosed women would more than likely have been subjected to invasive surgery, radiotherapy, adjuvant endocrine therapy and chemotherapy.

This is not the first time we are being warned of over diagnosis:  Monash University epidemiologist Associate Professor, Robin Bell has previously called for a review of the information given to women about the BreastScreen program after a study revealed that the screening was not as responsible for a reduction in cancer deaths as previously thought. The study found that the reduced deaths from breast cancer have been caused by improved treatments rather than early detection through screening programs. The researchers believe that the rate of over diagnosis may be as high as 30%. This is quite significant when you consider that in 2005 the BreastScreen program detected 3680 breast cancers – that could mean that over a thousand diagnoses were made that may not have caused any problem.

And yet the screening continues to be supported: Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Ian Olver claims that the British study showed the benefits of screening still outweighed the harm. Gail Crennan in a letter to The Age wrote that ‘ it is a no-brainer that women should have regular mammograms’ supporting her argument with the fact that two of her three friends who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treated, are well today. Melanie Hawthorne  pasted a comment on facebook:  I was “overdiagnosed” and had breast op ten years ago – it was negative luckily but they didn’t know that from just the x-ray.

Breast cancer is an emotional issue but such sentiment should not be allowed to get in the way of a public debate on mammography. Mammography is an x-ray of the breasts and contrary to popular belief the radiation exposure is far from trivial with the routine practice of taking four films for each breast resulting in 1 rad focused on each breast. Thus, premenopausal women undergoing annual screening over a ten-year period are exposed to a total of about 10 rads for each breast. Then there’s a risk to the breast from the tight compression that occurs during the procedure with research suggesting that this may lead to distant and lethal spread of malignant cells by rupturing small blood vessels in or around small, as yet undetected breast cancers.

Reporting on the problems associated with mammography is not new. In the 2001 edition of the International Journal of Health Services, Samuel  Epstein, Rosalie Bertell, and Barbara Seaman discuss how the widespread and acceptance of this screening has resulted in a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of ductal carcinoma-in-situ (DCIS), a pre-invasive cancer, with a current estimated incidence of about 40,000 annually with some 80 percent of all DCIS never becoming invasive even if left untreated. Most breast cancers are first recognized by women themselves. In 1985 the ACS, an aggressive advocate of routine mammography for all women over the age of 40 claimed that “at least 90 percent of the women who develop breast carcinoma discover the tumors themselves”.

But mammography screening is a profit-driven technology. Mike Adams at Natural News writes that after the United States Preventive Services Task Force released new recommendations advising against mammograms for women under 50 (and recommending only bi-annual screenings after that), the cancer industry went berserk. Mammograms, he claims are the bread and butter of the for-profit cancer industry. They serve two very important purposes: recruiting patients  into a highly-profitable regimen of chemotherapy drugs, radiation and surgery that, nine times out of ten, isn’t even medically justified and actually causing more cancer exposing women’s breasts (and heart tissues) to ionizing radiation.

It really is high time that women free themselves from medical abuse. Let’s start with quitting mammography and return to breast self-examination which is safe, and at least as effective.

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3 Comments

  1. Having been involved in this industry for many years, I can say from experience that so many of the scientific publications and so far from the mark you can not rely on their findings as the data skewed a little will provide totally different results. I did see a publication that said women with breast implants are less likely to have breast cancer than women without, which is ridiculous and was found to be flawed. Have regular checks including skin management at a non surgical clinic

    Reply
  2. Thanks for finally writing about >A reality check on
    breast cancer | Allthenewsthatmatter’s blog <Liked it!

    Reply
  1. A reality check on breast cancer | Breastlight | Scoop.it

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