Up until very recently, mammograms have been recommended by doctors for every woman over the age of 50 in the belief that such intensive screening will detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, allowing for earlier and more effective treatment.
The medical establishment has been slightly rocked with the investigation into this premise by the Swiss Medical Board (SMB) who has determined that premise is false.
SMB approached its research with three questions:
- We noticed that the ongoing debate [regarding the effectiveness and safety of mammography] was based on a series of reanalyses of the same, predominantly outdated trials. Could the modest benefit of mammography screening in terms of breast-cancer mortality that was shown in trials initiated between 1963 and 1991 still be detected in a trial conducted today?
- We were struck by how nonobvious it was that the benefits of mammography screening outweighed the harms. Did the available evidence, taken together, indicate that mammography screening indeed benefits women?
- We were disconcerted by the pronounced discrepancy between women’s perceptions of the benefits of mammography screening and the benefits to be expected in reality. How can women make an informed decision if they overestimate the benefit of mammography so grossly? (1).
What the research found is unsettling for women who have subscribed to the conventional wisdom of mammography.
The Hidden Danger of Breast Cancer Screening
Regular mammograms may account for prevention of 1 death for every 1000 screenings. This is about the same as women who find tumors on their own through palpation.
The harm caused by breast cancer screening may far outweigh its potential benefits. This test results in a huge number of false positives and over-diagnoses that result in unnecessary treatment and worse health for women worldwide. When you consider biopsies, mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation and their terrible effects on these on women—physically and emotionally—the harm becomes apparent.
A 25-year follow-up to a 5-year study published in The British Medical Journal determined that in younger women (aged 40-59), annual mammography doesn’t reduce the risk of death from breast cancer any better than regular self-examinations. In addition, 22% of active cancers found were over-diagnosed (2).
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A Cancer Doctor’s Perspective
Dr. Johnson declared on Facebook :
“Millions of women undergo mammograms annually, but few are even remotely aware of just how many dangers they are exposing themselves to in the name of prevention, not the least of which are misdiagnosis, over diagnosis and the promotion of breast cancer itself.
“A new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine titled, ‘Long-term psychosocial consequences of false-positive screening mammography’, brings to the forefront a major underreported harm of breast screening programs: the very real and lasting trauma associated with a false-positive diagnosis of breast cancer.
“The study found that women with false-positive diagnoses of breast cancer, even three years after being declared free of cancer, ‘consistently reported greater negative psychosocial consequences compared with women who had normal findings in all 12 psychosocial outcomes.’
“The psychosocial and existential parameters adversely affected were:
- Sense of dejection
- Negative impact on behavior
- Negative impact on sleep
- Degree of breast self-examination
- Negative impact on sexuality
- Feeling of attractiveness
- Ability to keep ‘mind off things’
- Worries about breast cancer
- Inner calm
- Social network
- Existential values
“What is even more concerning is that…even after being ‘cleared of cancer,’ the measurable adverse psycho-spiritual effects of the trauma of diagnosis were equivalent to actually having breast cancer.
“Given that the cumulative probability of false-positive recall or biopsy recommendation after 10 years of screening mammography is at least 50%, this is an issue that will affect the health of millions of women undergoing routine breast screening.” (4)
The Swiss study is both disturbing and liberating.
- No woman likes having her breasts smashed. Now there is substantial empirical evidence that no woman has to undergo this procedure as part of her preventive health.
- Not having a regular mammogram reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Those that have heeded the conventional medical practice and advice of physicians have the information to make informed health decisions. It is clear that physicians don’t know everything, a notion which should empower every individual to take control of her/his own health.
- Gentle monthly palpation is just as effective as mammography in finding a tumor if it exists. Paying careful attention to what you eat, how you live, how you look, and how you feel, as well as any change in breast tissue are more important in preventing and treating breast cancer than invasive therapies.
- The financial, physical, and emotional costs of mammography can be completely eliminated without risk.
SMB’s study concluded:
“It is easy to promote mammography screening if the majority of women believe that it prevents or reduces the risk of getting breast cancer and saves many lives through early detection of aggressive tumors. We would be in favor of mammography screening if these beliefs were valid. Unfortunately, they are not, and we believe that women need to be told so. From an ethical perspective, a public health program that does not clearly produce more benefits than harms is hard to justify. Providing clear, unbiased information, promoting appropriate care, and preventing overdiagnosis and overtreatment would be a better choice.”