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How safe are mammograms?

From the News in Caduceus 97:

A new study published in the British Medical Journal warns against the over-use and even the use of mammograms (Autier P et al. Effectiveness of and overdiagnosis from mammography screening in the Netherlands: population based study. BMJ 2017;359:j5224.)

Researchers found that mammography did little to reduce either deaths or advanced breast cancer over a period of 23 years in the Netherlands. Instead, they found that the screening, designed to pick up tumours, in fact led to over-diagnoses 60% of the time.

The study involved all Dutch women who were screened with mammograms every other year between 1989 and 2012 — about 8 million women in total. The researchers, led by Dr Philippe Autier from the University of Strathclyde Institute of Global Public Health, confirms what many doctors have been saying for years.

Mammography does not pick up tumours but rather the changed breast tissue surrounding them. Thus, it is possible that many advanced cancers are growing without significantly changing breast tissue and therefore not getting picked up by mammograms. At the same time each repeat mammogram increases the risk of contracting cancer due to the X-ray radiation.

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Today the emphasis is on early detection and treatment but the latest science indicates that your annual mammogram may do you more harm than good, contrary to what women are constantly told by their GPs and the media.

. The mainstream would have you believe that mammograms are the be all and end all of breast screening and that without regular, annual mammograms from the age of 50, you are at serious risk. Yet the science from even the likes of the Cochrane Collaboration does not concur, and what about women under 50?

The current science shows that the risk of getting a false positive from a mammogram is high and if you get a false positive, you will be sent for a biopsy. Apart from it being invasive, if you do have cancer, the biopsy may rupture your tumour and spread cancer cells. There is very clear evidence that this happens and it is not just a possible risk: it is a genuine risk of over-diagnosis and subsequent over-treatment. Study after study shows this, yet women are not being given sufficient information to make an informed choice about their screening method or what actions to take after a positive diagnosis.

It is very understandable why women feel that early screening is important. But mammograms become a form of invasive screening because of the sheer amount of pressure the breast tissue is subject to and the resulting risk of rupture to an undetected tumour. Plus, they are extremely painful.

Thermography cover-up

Given clear scientific evidence that mammograms do more harm than good, why is there a cover-up about thermography as a safe alternative?

For the full report, see the current issue.


Click here to see other recent articles on Understanding female cyclic sexuality, Vaccination vs vitamin D, and swine flu, among others.


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