Two recent studies have looked into the effectiveness of mammogram screening and have cast further doubt on whether routine mammography is worthwhile or not.
The first study, published in the April 2014 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It examined five decades of data, identifying the mortality benefits and harms of mammography screening. Unfortunately the results were worrying.
Yes, the study found that mammograms decreased a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer by an average of 19 percent, but the same amount of the cancers found and treated were actually not life-threatening and did not need to be treated.
The researchers have instead suggested that there is a need for a more personalized approach to breast cancer screening, particularly in regards to younger women. USA Today noted that the research estimated that
“for every 10,000 women in their 40s who undergo annual mammograms for 10 years, 190 will be diagnosed with breast cancer. But only five of those women would avoid dying of breast cancer as a result of the screening. Of the remainder, about 25 would die despite being treated, and 36 would be treated unnecessarily because the cancer wouldn’t have become life-threatening.
For women in their 50s, 10 breast-cancer deaths would be averted for every 10,000 women screened annually for 10 years. For women in their 60s, 42 breast-cancer deaths would be averted. But as many as 137 women in their 50s, and 194 in their 60s would be diagnosed and treated unnecessarily.“
The researchers suggested that routine mammograms lead to frequent over-diagnosis of cancer along with over-treatment, or even mistreatment, and the harm of mammograms might actually outweigh the benefits. In any case, they argue, mammography misses 20 to 40 percent of cancers.
The second study is just as damning. This one involved 1.8 million Norwegian women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1987 and 2010, and was published in the March 2014 issue of The European Journal of Public Health.
For some reason, researchers were able to identify that among women aged 50 to 69 years of age, breast cancer screening is associated with a significantly higher incidence of early stage, lower lethality cancer (221 percent) and higher rates of late-stage, more advanced breast cancer (35 percent) in comparison to those women who did not receive mammogram screenings.
Sayer Ji of GreenMedInfo has explained that many ‘so-called ‘early stage cancers’ are not cancer at all, but benign or indolent growths so millions of women are wrongly diagnosed with ‘breast cancer’.
What Does This Mean for Mammography? So, has mammography screening been oversold? The British Journal of Medicine (February 2014) reported a Canadian study that concluded annual mammography does not reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer if you’re a woman between the ages of 40 and 59.
Dr. Gilbert Welch, co-author of Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Incidence has highlighted that while the number of women diagnosed with early breast cancer has approximately doubled, there has been very little change in breast cancer rates among younger women (under 40), suggesting there has not been a dramatic change in the underlying amount of breast cancer, and there has not been a compensatory decrease in the number of women presenting with late-stage breast cancer, which is much more lethal. Welch claims that the logical conclusion is that the extra cancers we see today result from the screening itself and that mammograms are detecting “cancers” that are never going to appear.
In 2011 a “new and improved” type of mammogram called 3D tomosynthesis was launched which exposes women to higher doses of radiation than a standard mammogram, but surely using a cancer screening method that causes the very disease it’s supposed to prevent cannot be considered progress?
Are Deodorant and Underwire Bras Possible Causes of Breast Cancer Causes? It has long been thought that chemicals in deodorant, and even underwire bras, could contribute to breast cancer risk and a recent paper looking at Scottish women diagnosed with breast cancer three decades apart (between 1957-1959 and 1997-1999) has found this to be the case. The causes of cancer in the Upper Quadrant of the breast near the arm pit could be as a result of repetitive trauma – from blocked sweat ducts from antiperspirants and deodorants, and skin damage from shaving. This can lead to cysts and these are linked to increased cancer risk, while the chemicals and additives in antiperspirants and deodorants, include parabens and aluminium salts, may cause cancer.
So How Can You Lower Your Cancer Risk? Good strategies for prevention include:
- Avoiding refined sugar, especially from fructose, and processed foods.
- Optimizing your vitamin D levels through exposure to the sun.
- Limiting protein. You need enough protein for cellular turnover and muscle maintenance, but no more. An ideal amount is one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, or roughly a bit less than half a gram of protein per every pound of lean body weight –usually around 40 to 70 grams of protein a day.
- Avoid unfermented soy products which are high in plant oestrogens, or phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones. It is believed that these can increase breast cell proliferation – leading to mutations and cancerous cells.
- Improve your insulin and leptin receptor sensitivity by avoiding sugar and grains and restricting carbs to fibre vegetables.
- Exercise regularly as it lowers your cancer risk by driving your insulin levels down.
Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Drink a pint to a quart of organic green vegetable juice daily.
- Consider curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that is thought to be a very useful treatment for cancer.
- Limit or avoid alcohol
- Consider avoiding synthetic hormone replacement therapy. According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer rates for women dropped in tandem with decreased use of hormone replacement therapy.
- Ensure you are not iodine deficient, as there is some evidence linking iodine deficiency with certain forms of cancer. See Dr. David Brownstein’s book, Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It.
- Don’t burn your food. Charcoal or flame-broiled meat is linked with increased breast cancer risk. Acrylamide—a carcinogen created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, or fried—has been found to increase cancer risk as well.
Written by: Lloyd Jenkins PHD, ND