For more than 30-years women in the US and their doctors have been conditioned to accept annual mammography screenings as a woman's best option for early detection of breast cancer. Several clinical studies tell us a very different story.
Today, medical experts say that mammography is useful in certain situations, but has proven ineffective as a screening tool for early detection of breast cancer. Worse yet, the radiation from a mammogram presents a serious health risk. These facts are published by respected medical professionals in reputable medical journals. The following paraphrased citations are a small sample:
'Screening for breast cancer with mammography is unjustified especially for women under age 50'...2000 issue of The Lancet, the World's most prestigious medical journal.
'There is little evidence documenting that mammography saves lives from breast cancer for premenopausal women'...2003 issue of AMA journal, American Medical News.
'Doctors conclude mammograms offer no health benefits, whatsoever'...The Lancet.
'Mammography's so-called low-dose radiation may increase the risk of breast cancer'...International Journal of Cancer.
In addition, a 1997 consensus panel appointed by the National Institute for Health ruled that there was no evidence that for women ages 40 to 49 mammograms save lives; they may even do more harm than good.
Mammography is the process of using X-rays to examine the human breast for different types of tumors and cysts. Like all X-rays, mammography uses ionizing radiation to create a film or digital image.
The special wavelength of the X-rays enables mammography to create images of the internal structures of the breasts. As they pass through the breast the X-rays are partially absorbed by the different tissue densities they encounter. Dense tissue (fat) absorbs much of the X-radiation. Connective tissue is less dense and absorbs less of the X-ray energy. These absorption differences for different tissue types generate the images. Radiologists analyze the images for abnormal growths.
A Diagnostic Mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast of a woman who exhibits signs of possible cancer, e.g., a palpable mass (lump), discharge, positive breast thermography evaluation, etc. Abnormalities such as cancerous tumors, tissue masses, cysts, and tiny calcium deposits (microcalcifications) are usually visible.
Diagnostic mammography is a valuable tool for locating suspected cancerous tissue, so that a biopsy may be performed.
A Screening Mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breast(s) of a woman without overt symptoms of breast cancer. The goal of the mammography screening is to discover cancer before it is felt by the woman or her doctor as a lump.
The premise that screening mammography is a useful tool for the early detection of breast cancer makes no sense. Breast cancer takes years to develop, and a tumor that's big enough to be visible on a mammogram has been growing for years. It probably has already spread to other organs, and the 5-year survival rate at this point is only 26%.
When mammography was first embraced by the medical community as a screening tool for breast cancer, its use was predicted to improve mortality by 25% - 30%. Unfortunately it has miserably failed to meet these expectations.
A 2000 study of 600,000 women aged 50 to 70 screened using mammography every two years showed the reduction in breast cancer death rate was only 1%. This discouraging result evidences that mammography screenings discover tumors when they are in the advanced stages of development, probably eight-years old, or older, and have likely spread beyond the breast.
Screening mammography can also detect the presence of a tumor through inference by identifying clusters of microcalcifications, specks of calcium found in the area of a growing tumor. About half the cancers detected appear as clusters of these microcalcifications. Sadly, by the time the clusters are big enough to be considered serious, the cancer may have spread beyond the breast.
Mammography's Misleading Results: In a clinical study of 60,000 women, 70% of the tumors detected by screening mammography weren't tumors at all. In addition to the financial and emotional strains resulting from these false positives, they may also lead to many unnecessary and invasive biopsies. In fact, biopsies in 70% to 80% of all positive mammograms do not show any presence of cancer.
Mammograms also have a high rate of missed tumors, or false negatives. The book, Politics of Cancer, claims that one in four instances of cancer is missed by mammography in women ages 40 to 49. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) puts the false negative rate even higher at 40% among women in the same age group. National Institute of Health spokespeople state that mammograms miss 10% of malignant tumors in women over 50. These are not tiny, early tumors that are missed! Researchers have found that false negatives are twice as likely to occur in premenopausal women.
Radiation Risks Using Mammography: Many in the medical community are critical of mammography and cite the hazardous health effects of the radiation used in the procedure. Their concerns are justified.
The X-rays used for mammography are longer wavelength than the X-rays used for other examinations, e.g., chest X-rays. Mammography's special X-rays are absorbed by tissue much more readily than traditional X-rays. The more radiation that's absorbed, the more potential there is for tissue damage. The "Mammogram Industry" promotes the procedure as low-dosage mammography, but the reality is that mammography's special X-rays are the equivalent of 1000 standard X-rays. "Low-dosage," indeed!
According to one former director of the NCI, in women between the ages of 35 and 50, each exposure to today's "low-dosage" X-radiation from mammography increased the risk of breast cancer by 1%. Other experts claim 2%. So, the 40-year old woman who has a mammogram each year for ten years increases her risk of developing breast cancer by 10% to 20%. The risk of radiation is apparently higher among younger women. The NCI released evidence that, among women under 35, mammography could cause 75 cases of breast cancer for every 15 it identifies. A Canadian study found a 52% increase in breast cancer mortality in young women given annual mammograms.
Since mammography screening was introduced in the early 1970's, the incidence of ductal carcinoma in situ, a form of breast cancer, has increased by 328%. Of this increase 200% is alleged to be due to mammography screenings! Cancer research has also found that a high percentage of women in the United States have a gene, oncogene AC, that is extremely sensitive to even small doses of radiation. Researchers estimate that 10,000 of these gene carriers will die of breast cancer this year due to the radiation from screening mammography.
Toxic X-rays, unacceptable high rates of false negatives and false positives – the evidence is clear and irrefutable – the benefits of screening mammograms are minimal, but the risks are enormous. There is no evidence that mammography is effective for detecting breast cancer in its early stages, but there is much evidence to the contrary. Simply put, mammography is not effective as a screening tool to detect early cancers, and it is harmful to the woman's health.