After I wrote the blog – “Mammograms – Yes, No, Maybe So?” Dr. Russell Blaylock sent me this follow-up. He is an expert in this field, and I greatly respect his opinion.
What women who defend mammograms do not appreciate is that many are developing breast cancer not naturally, but because of the mammograms themselves. The test they defend is what is killing a significant number of them. We went through this in the 70’s with routine chest x-ray studies; after several years of such screening they realized that it was not detecting enough pathology to justify the expense, but many physicians also recognized that it posed a significant radiation-induced cancer risk as well.
They will never admit to the radiation (mammogram) breast cancer link because that will tell women that many of them developed breast cancer because of the screening itself and that could severely damage the cancer establishment. And it could result in a massive number of lawsuits.
Why don’t we advocate “testiculograms” (I made this term up) on men - that is placing their testicles into a “panini” type of press machine, then radiating them - once a year starting at age 20. After all, it may save the lives of hundreds of men every year! We could even sell pink oval shaped decals to promote yearly “testiculograms” and have marathons to draw support. And we might even promote yearly CT scans of the prostate for men—that would save thousands from prostate cancer—if we apply the same flawed way of thinking we use for mammograms. Let’s see how many men show up for their yearly testiculogram or prostate scan. Just a thought.
As for the data on the benefits of mammograms, 10 of the largest studies seeking to determine if routine mammograms indeed prevented death from breast cancer - studies which included a half-million women from Canada, USA, Scotland and Sweden - all found that doing mammograms from age 40 to 49 did not reduce breast cancer deaths at all for 9 years of the survey. Nine of ten of the studies also found no death reductions over the next 10 to 14 years of observations. When they pooled all the results from all 10 of the trials, they found no reductions in breast cancer deaths during an observation period of 14 years.
When they looked at screening beginning at age 50, 3 found a statistically significant reduction, 4 found non-significant reductions and 1 found no reductions in breast cancer deaths at all. When they looked at women who started mammogram screenings at age 50 years and followed them for the next 20 years (age 70), they found a reduction in breast cancer deaths of 1 out of every 270 women (a 0.37% incidence of reduced deaths).
The vast majority of breast cancers found in women below age 50 are DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and 50% never progress. These women will undergo unnecessary biopsy, breast surgery and, for many, radiation and chemotherapy.
One must also consider two other factors - false negatives and false positives. Women with breast cancer who have a false negative mammogram constitute some 5-20%, with the highest number being younger women. This means that 20% of younger women will have breast cancer that will not be picked up by the mammogram.
Mammograms expose women to a significant amount of radiation. We know that breast tissue is one of the more radiosensitive tissues. This is especially so for the woman with the BRCA 1 and 2 mutation and the woman who already have a DCIS (non-progressive in over 50% of cases). The radiation, based on extensive studies, would more than likely convert a non-progressive cancer into a highly invasive cancer in a number of instances. Remember, radiation is an accumulative tissue damaging agent - each mammogram will produce a certain amount of DNA and cellular damage that goes unrepaired. Women with inflammatory breast diseases are at an even greater risk, because the high level of free radical and lipid peroxidation damage also damages the DNA repair enzymes, and this means an even greater level of unrepaired DNA with each mammogram. This explains the 1-3% accumulative risk with each mammogram.
It is also known that radiosensitivity declines with aging as does the growth rate of cancers. A woman in her 50’s or 60’s will have a slower growing cancer than will a woman in her 20’s to 40’s. Likewise, because of the gap between radiation exposure and the development of the cancer, the hope of these mammogram proponents is that starting the mammograms at age 50 will mean that most women will die of other diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, before she will develop a radiation-induced breast cancer. This is especially so if they change mammograms to every other year. For the woman living into her 80’s or 90’s - she will face a significant risk of a radiation-induced breast cancer. Also of concern are the women with the DCIS, which in over 50% of cases will never become a true invasive cancer. Yet, we know that in these breast lesions exist very unstable chromosomes. Radiating such lesions year after year greatly increases the risk that these benign lesions will become highly malignant. That is, the mammogram itself will induce the cancer. Millions of women have DCIS type lesions and most would never be any worse off if they never knew it. Now we have millions of women with DCIS being radiated every year and this assures that many will develop a highly invasive, deadly cancer caused by the scanning itself.
Women have an alternative. They can have a thermogram, an ultrasound or an MRI scan. None of these tests increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. The mammogram defender will counter that the thermograms have not been proven effective - but then, they refuse to fund testing. They admit the MRI gives a much clearer picture of the breast, especially for very dense breasts (which for the mammogram cannot be read), but then claim that it will result in too many false positives. As we have seen, mammograms have a false positive rate of 90% (some 300,000 women undergo biopsies for false positive mammograms a year). How much higher could it be with MRI scans - 95%? They refuse to give up mammograms because they have spent billions on special breast scanning suites and expensive mammogram equipment - it is big business and it would be an admission that they have been harming and killing thousands of women.