The Mammogram Debate: Cause or Cure?

From the May 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

Unfortunately, mammography can be the cause of a woman’s breast cancer. When calculating its supposed benefits, we need to include in the equation the percentage of women whose breast cancer was promoted by the radiation exposure from the mammograms themselves. The younger you are when the mammograms are performed, the greater the risk of radiation-induced cancer.1,2 According to Michael Swift, M.D., chief of medical genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, between 5,000 and 10,000 of the 180,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year could be prevented if women’s breasts were not exposed to radiation from mammograms.Over a million American women carry the gene for ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), which makes them unusually sensitive to the ionizing radiation in X rays and five times more likely to develop breast cancer.3

The decision to screen for breast cancer using mammograms should not be made lightly or based solely on emotions. Intuition, hope, and compassion can lead to the conclusion that screening mammograms should save the lives of young women, and it is frustrating that science has demonstrated otherwise. Our desire to help a loved one by “doing something about it” is instinctive. When it comes to breast cancer, the question is not whether to do something or not, but rather what to do about it. It is wrong to instruct patients to depend on mammograms, knowing that they will inevitably undergo the anxiety and frustration of repeated exams, callbacks, biopsies, and unneeded surgeries for nothing but a false sense of security. As caregivers, we need to tell our loved ones and all women that there are proven steps they can take to help prevent cancer from ever developing in the first place. (See Ten Ways to Help Prevent Breast Cancer.)

All the misleading publicity devoted to mammograms undercuts the urgently needed efforts to teach women that dietary and lifestyle changes are their best weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Women are continually urged by doctors, private and government agencies, and the media to undergo mammograms. How much better it would be if the same amount of effort would be put into telling women that those who eat four to five servings of vegetables per day have a 46 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those eating only one to two servings per day, and that women who eat six fruits per day have a 35 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those eating fewer than two fruits per day.4

For more on The Mammogram Debate check out these posts:

1. Brenner DJ, Sawant SG, Hande MP, et al. Routine screening mammography: how important is the radiation-risk side of the benefit-risk equation? Int J Radiat Biol 2002 Dec;78(12): 1065-7.

2. Jung H. Is there a real risk of radiation-induced breast cancer for postmenopausal women? Radiat Environ Biophys 2001 Jun;40(2):169-74.

3. Den Otter W, Merchant TE, Beijerinck D, Koten JW. Breast cancer induction due to mammographic screening in hereditarily affected women. Anticancer Res 1996 Sep- Oct;16(5B):3173-5.

4. Trichopoulou A, Katsouyanni K, Stuver S, et al. Consumption of olive oil and specific food groups in relation to breast cancer risk in Greece. J Natl Cancer Inst 1995;87(2):110-116.
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Judy dill - June 19, 2007 3:01 PM

My last two mammograms have ended in breast biopsies. The two mammograms I had the day of my procedure. The x-ray technician left the room with my breast clamped between two iron plates for a period of at least seven minutes then she returned and said, "oh my, I think I've turned you purple!" I have decided not to have any more mammograms. It's a personal decision I'm not trying to talk anyone out of doing what they feel they must do. I'm tired of being treated like a piece of meat.

Ala - May 16, 2008 10:22 AM

Judy, thank you. That's exactly how I feel, and I've made a decision to totally go AMA on this -- I will not have a mammogram.

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