Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis Skyrocketing As Women Everywhere Receive Dangerous And Unnecessary Mammograms
The studies just keep rolling on in with more and more evidence showing that the breast cancer screening ritual known as mammography is not everything that it is cracked up to be. One of the latest studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), for instance, analyzed more than 30 years' worth of data on mammography and found that nearly 1.5 million women have been needlessly treated for cancers that were not at all harmful or that technically did not even exist.
Dr. Archie Bleyer, an oncologist at the Oregon Health and Science University Knight Cancer Institute, and his colleagues took on the task of poring through the myriad of published data on mammograms since the time they first became widely popularized as a breast cancer screening tool back in the 1970s. After adjusting the data to account for changing lifestyle trends, the use of hormone replacement therapy, and other outside factors that might have skewed the data, the team estimated that mammography has been responsible for nearly doubling the overall detection rate of early-stage breast cancers.
On the surface, this increase, which translates into an additional 1.5 million women receiving early-stage breast cancer diagnoses, appears to suggest that mammography is also responsible for helping save the lives of 1.5 million additional women. But the truth of the matter is that, at the end of the day, this increase ultimately led to only about 0.1 million, or 100,000, fewer women receiving late-stage breast cancer diagnoses, which in turn translates into a net amount of about 1.4 million early-stage breast cancer diagnoses that have been erroneous.
"Our study raises serious questions about the value of screening mammography," wrote the authors in their paper. "Although no one can say with certainty which women have cancers that are over diagnosed, there is certainty about what happens to them: they undergo surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy for five years or more, chemotherapy, or usually a combination of these treatments that otherwise would not have caused illness."
Besides creating false diagnoses, mammograms cause long-term health damage
Dr. Bleyer, who now advises his daughter-in-law to skip her yearly mammogram and instead opt for an every-other-year screening, is concerned not only about this epidemic of false diagnoses, but also the long-term health damage that can result from mammography for many women. Because mammograms are not as accurate as we once thought, and also involve blasting women's breasts with cancer-causing ionizing radiation, Dr. Bleyer says he now feels "conflicted" about the procedure, and about whether or not it is wise to continue advising women to get it.
"I really don't know what to do," Dr. Bleyer, a news anchor and health reporter at KBND Newstalk in Bend, Oregon, is quoted as saying to CNN. "We're mortals, and we're still trying to figure this out," he added, noting that as many as one-third of all tumors detected during mammograms are so small and slow-growing that they would never turn into full-blown cancer.
At the same time, mammograms often fail to catch tumors that are actually harmful, leaving many women who thought they were protected stricken with advanced cancers that are difficult to cure using conventional methods. And on top of that, these same women potentially face having to deal with leukemia and other conditions as well, which are often brought about as a direct result of getting mammograms.
"Despite substantial increases in the number of cases of early-stage breast cancer detected, screening mammography has only marginally reduced the rate at which women present with advanced cancer," wrote the authors in their conclusion. "Although it is not certain which women have been affected, the imbalance suggests that there is substantial overdiagnosis, accounting for nearly a third of all newly diagnosed breast cancers, and that screening is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer."
You can view a free preview of the study here:
Science suggests mammograms simply aren't worth the risk
Dr. Bleyer's study is certainly not the only one to raise serious questions about the safety and benefits of mammograms. A 2008 study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, for instance, also concluded that many of the cancers detected by mammograms would not necessarily ever develop into malignant tumors. In fact, many screen-detected invasive breast cancers detected by mammograms end up spontaneously regressing later on down the road without the need for invasive surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, according to that study. (http://www.greenmedinfo.com)
Similarly, a 2002 study published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology found that the amount of radiation emitted by mammogram x-rays is enough to actually cause cancer in human cells. Treading lightly with their findings, the researchers from Germany advised that women who are predisposed to so-called "inherited" breast cancer avoid getting early and frequent mammograms. But the implications of this and numerous other studies actually apply to all women regardless of predisposition -- and the risk of developing breast cancer as a result of mammograms becomes greater the more often women get them. (http://www.greenmedinfo.com)
"While no one can dismiss the possibility that (mammogram) screening may help a tiny number of women, there's no doubt that it leads many, many more to be treated for breast cancer unnecessarily," writes H. Gilbert Welch for The New York Times about the issue. "Women have to decide for themselves about the benefit and harms."
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