You could be forgiven for thinking that having regular mammograms to catch breast cancer early is a good idea. You’ve been told this by your doctor, your family and the media for years. What you might not be aware of is that the usefulness and harmfulness of mammograms has been a hotly debated issue for a long time.
A new study titled, “Mammography screening is harmful and should be stopped” was recently conducted by Peter C Gøtzsche, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Mammography screening has been promoted to the public with three simple promises that all appear to be wrong: It saves lives and breasts by catching the cancers early. Screening does not seem to make the women live longer; it increases mastectomies; and cancers are not caught early, they are caught very late. They are also caught in too great numbers. There is so much overdiagnosis that the best thing a women can do to lower her risk of becoming a breast cancer patient is to avoid going to screening, which will lower her risk by one-third. We have written an information leaflet that exists in 16 languages on www.cochrane.dk, which we hope will make it easier for a woman to make an informed decision about whether or not to go to screening.
I believe that if screening had been a drug, it would have been withdrawn from the market long ago. Many drugs are withdrawn although they benefit many patients, when serious harms are reported in rather few patients. The situation with mammography screening is the opposite: Very few, if any, will benefit, whereas many will be harmed. I therefore believe it is appropriate that a nationally appointed body in Switzerland has now recommended that mammography screening should be stopped because it is harmful.
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the US only 3 weeks away this published study might affect the marketing frenzy that is ‘Cancer Awareness’. Make no mistake the Business of Cancer is booming and you can expect your heart strings to be tugged with truly touching stories that make you reach for your wallet and go for a walk.
The authors of the study pooled the results of previous trials looking at the effectiveness of mammograms. In total they included 600 000 women between the ages of 39 – 74 and found that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one will avoid dying of breast cancer and 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be treated unnecessarily. Furthermore, more than 200 women will experience important psychological distress including anxiety and uncertainty for years because of false positive findings.
Cancer is a terrible condition that devastates lives and needs to be taken seriously. People with Cancer need all the support they can get and the people who care for them are walking angels. The trouble is we have a broken disease-care system that is unable to deal with the problem.
Lets clear one thing up. Mammography is not a form of cancer prevention, it’s a diagnostic tool that promises early detection. The balance of evidence seems to show that its failing on it’s promises and it does more harm than good.
Research suggests that cancer is a preventable disease and lifestyle factors (like eating, moving and thinking) are far more important that your genes:
Only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle. The lifestyle factors include cigarette smoking, diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity.
If the Cancer awareness drives were anything other than thinly veiled marketing efforts they would be educating you on how to really prevent cancer by eating real food, moving yourself, being the balance and keeping your power on.