We have been conditioned to believe that screening mammograms save lives. But do mammograms save lives? Does every woman need to have a yearly screening mammogram starting at age 40 or 50?
These are tough questions with no crystal-clear answers. However, a recent study can shed some light on whether it is wise to get screened with annual mammography.
Breast cancer has affected all of us. Presently, one in eight U.S. women has a chance for developing invasive breast cancer. About 40,000 U.S. women will die of breast cancer this year. Women need to understand the evidence behind mammograms in order to make the decision whether they will undergo screening.
A recent article in JAMA (April 2, 2014) illuminated the evidence about screening mammograms. The authors of the study reviewed mammography studies which included randomized clinical trials, systemic reviews, and observations studies from 1960-2014.
The authors found screening mammography provided both benefits and risks to women. The authors stratified the data based on the age of the women. Three age categories were reported: 39-49, 50-59, and 60-69.
Benefits of Screening Mammography
From the age of 39-49, in order to prevent one breast cancer death, 1,904 women would need to be screened. From the age of 50-59, in order to prevent one breast cancer death, 1,339 women would need to be screened. From the age of 60-69, to prevent one breast cancer death, 377 women would need to be screened. Remember, screening implies yearly mammography. (Yes, the recent recommendations have changed but this study used data when yearly mammography was recommended).
Harms of Screening Mammography
Mammography is associated with false-positive results. From the age of 40 to 50 years, the 10-year cumulative risk of at least one false-positive screening mammographic test is 61.3%. In other words, if you have a yearly mammogram from age 40 to 50 years, you have a 61.3% chance that you will have a false positive mammogram. This will entail more radiological testing along with biopsies, surgeries, and of course increased anxiety.
Furthermore, each mammogram increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer since a mammogram uses ionizing radiation. There are estimates that each mammogram increases the risk of breast cancer by 1%.
Let’s look at the benefit data another way. In women aged 39-49 years, 1904 women need to be screened to prevent one breast cancer death. That means that 1903 women were screened without any benefit—a 99% failure rate (1903/1904)!
Do Mammograms Save Lives?
Not many. A better question might be, “Do Mammograms harm women?” Yes. When looking at the breast cancer death rate from 1930 until now, there is no convincing evidence of the benefit of mammography.
What Should You Do?
I find it hard to believe that women need to undergo a yearly or biannually screening mammogram when the data is not there to support it.
We need more research on how to prevent breast cancer. Mammograms do not prevent breast cancer; they diagnose it.
Breast thermology is a better choice. Thermology measures the heat of the body via infrared images. For over 20 years, I have had women receive breast thermology at Thermascan – http://www.thermascan.com/. Although the data is not available to state that thermology saves lives, at least it does not expose sensitive tissue to ionizing radiation that causes cancer. Furthermore, when abnormalities are illustrated with thermology, further testing such as mammograms can be pursued. Also, early thermology breast changes can be modified with supplements such as iodine, indole-3 carbonyl and calcium D-glucorate.
Final Thoughts: We spend over $8 billion in health care spending on a procedure (screening mammogram) that has not been proven to save lives or even prevent breast cancer. Perhaps if the Powers-That-Be (e.g., The Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society) were serious about breast cancer prevention they would promote research to identify the cause of why one in eight U.S. women get invasive breast cancer. Until the Powers-That-Be change their funding practices, I say donate your hard-earned money elsewhere.
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