Once we get to a certain age, most adults do it because their doctors tell them it’s routine and the right thing to do: cancer screening.
Unpleasant for both men and women, prostate and breast cancer screening procedures are part of what adults do to ensure we stay healthy and if something goes wrong, we’re in the best position to catch it early and treat it.
But does cancer screening really work?
Screening must not be confused with prevention. Family history, diet, and lifestyle choices weigh heavily in your particular risk for cancer. Preventing cancer—or at least greatly reducing the risk—is under our absolute control.
Thousands upon thousands of scientific studies all over the world have explored environmental and personal factors that go into cancer’s incidence.
Foods we eat and drink, the air we breathe, what we smoke, personal and household products we use, and the level of regular exercise we engage in are the primary reasons our bodies’ natural balance gets out of whack and begins to produce abnormal cells.
There is no question that genetic predisposition is a factor of cancer risk; it is not, however, a guarantee that you’ll develop cancer because of it. (1) The general course of action if you are even at risk because your great aunt had breast cancer, for instance, is to go through annual mammograms regardless of your personal health history.
It is questionable if such intrusive screening works in detecting cancer or—perhaps more frightening—might actually cause it.
In 2011, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a study that concluded:
“Prostate-specific antigen–based [PSA] screening results in small or no reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality and is associated with harms related to subsequent evaluation and treatments, some of which may be unnecessary.” (2)
In the same Annals of Internal Medicine that published the Task Force’s paper, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer wrote:
“Americans have been taught for decades to fear all cancer and that the best way to deal with cancer is to find it early and treat it aggressively. As a result, many have a blind faith in early detection of cancer and subsequent aggressive medical intervention whenever cancer is found. There is little appreciation of the harms that screening and medical interventions can cause. Overdiagnosis makes screening seem to save lives when it truly does not… Much of my own concern about prostate cancer screening has been with mass screenings that mislead men to believe that screening can only help them…[screening promotions] never mention the potential harms of screening…Mass screening is also a lucrative business. As Upton Sinclair once said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it’.” (3)
Similar results have been found for colorectal cancer screening; from the New England Journal of Medicine:
“More than two thirds of the trial participants (71%) died, and this large number of deaths allowed us to study the effect of colorectal-cancer screening on all-cause mortality. Despite this, we did not observe any reduction or trends in the reduction in all-cause mortality between the screening groups and the control group. Our 95% confidence intervals exclude a 1.5% reduction in all-cause mortality from screening. However, the 32% reduction in colorectal-cancer mortality that we observed corresponds to only a 0.9% reduction in all-cause mortality.” (4)
In 2015, Cancer Care Ontario published “Colorectal Cancer Screening in Average Risk Populations: Evidence Summary”. Of sixteen common screening tests for this type of cancer only THREE were determined to have any benefit; there was either no or insufficient evidence to support any of the others. (5)
In their book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer, Drs. Lee and Zava and Virginia Hopkins explore what breast cancer is, how it’s treated using Western medicine, and explores cancer screening and prevention. In Chapter One, they begin:
“Over the past few decades, conventional medicine has done very little to make any meaningful difference in what will happen to you if you get breast cancer, and virtually nothing it has done has reduced the incidence of the disease. The harsh reality is, if you get breast cancer, you’ll get more treatment than you did 50 years ago, you and your insurance company will spend a lot more money, and if it’s fatal you may gain a few more months of life (usually of very poor quality), but statistics clearly tell us that conventional medicines for treating breast cancer such as tamoxifen, radiation, and chemotherapy just aren’t working in the long run. The way breast cancer is currently treated is a way of doing something in the face of not knowing what else to do. If you have an invasive or nonlocal breast cancer, your chances of dying from it are still about one in three, the same as they have been for decades. The incidence of breast cancer (how many women are getting it) is steadily rising, and the numbers are appalling…” (6)
Regarding mammography as a screening tool:
“Countless advertisements and physicians are telling women to have mammograms. But the value of this procedure is far from clear. We all know women diagnosed with breast cancer that wasn’t detected by mammography, and we all know that mammograms present a real risk of false positive and false negative findings. The test procedure is unpleasant and the radiation is potentially harmful. Both tissue damage and radiation are known risk factors for breast cancer, so it may even be logical to assume that mammography can contribute to breast cancer…Radiation is a potent risk factor for breast cancer, its effect is cumulative, and mammography involves forcefully squashing the breast and then shooting radiation through it…[breast cancer] survival results [for women who found tumors through palpation] match those of subject women whose tumors were found by mammography. [emphasis added]” (Ibid.)
Through their research, Drs. Lee and Zava have found that hormone imbalance—often caused by environmental and lifestyle factors, including diet—is a risk factor for breast cancer. Estrogen dominance caused by chemicals in food and the environment is the culprit.
“Balancing your estrogen and progesterone levels is not even a cure-all–especially if you’re still spraying your roses with pesticides, microwaving your food in plastic wrap, bingeing [sic] on French fries and snack chips, and regularly stressing yourself out to the point of exhaustion. If that describes you, you need to take better care of yourself and change your lifestyle, starting now…The good news is that in the process of taking steps to prevent breast cancer, you’ll also be preventing other types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, and many other chronic diseases.” (Ibid.)
So before you or someone you know goes through an uncomfortable, possibly unnecessary, and potentially harmful screening test, get a second opinion. If you are at risk for developing cancer, please take a look here at things you can do for yourself to significantly reduce the odds in your favor.