Exaggerated Faith in Mammograms: A Better Way

Several years ago, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute  reported on a study that included 145 women who assessed their feelings about mammograms and found the following:

  • Women over estimated their probability of dying of breast cancer within 10 years by more than 20-fold.
  • Women over estimated the risk reduction of annual screening mammograms more than 100-fold.  
  • The study concluded, “women younger than 50 years substantially over-estimate both their breast cancer risk and the effectiveness of screening.”

COMMENT: Everywhere you look — in print, on TV, across the Internet and even at the cosmetic counters of department stores — mammogram advocates are pushing the procedure as if it was the ultimate cure for cancer.  It is not.

While early detection may save lives, screening mammograms do not prevent cancer.  In the 1980s, by the time a woman found a lump, the tumor was advanced. Annual mammography came into wide acceptance around that time as a way to find a tumor before it could be felt.  The idea was that by finding it early, treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemo could reduce the breast cancer death rate.  By this measure, mammograms are a success.

Instead of demanding cancer prevention, we scream for early detection. Researchers stopped looking for the cause because we’re demanding the Cure.  We run and sweat to raise money for “research.”  Does anyone see the problem with this? We are really raising money for the drug companies – which have more wealth than most countries – to cure something we can avoid with the right tools. 

In addition to finding the cause, we need to demand that a state-of-the-art breast thermogram be performed with every breast exam and every mammogram. We need to insist that insurance companies cover this test as readily as they cover mammograms and cancer therapies.  With thermography, areas of concern can be identified and addressed by dietary and lifestyle changes, lymph drainage exercises, evidence-based vitamins and nutraceuticals. Improvements can be closely followed by non-invasive, non-painful infrared imaging. If the area of heat goes away, the risk of progression, by definition, goes away.

Think thermography: Redefine the meaning of “Early Detection.” Here’s more information about our program.


Low Dose Radiation and Breast Cancer Risks

According to the International Journal of Cancer, some forms of low-dose radiation treatment, including chest xrays and for acne treatments, may increase the risk of breast cancer, particularly in genetically susceptible women.

Self-reported information was available for 2,254 breast cancer patients and 3,431 healthy women, which included the sisters of the patients or women from the general population. Radiation treatment of a previous cancer increased the risk of breast cancer by 3.55-foldThey also noted a trend toward higher breast cancer risk among women who received radiotherapy for acne or other skin conditions. Women who had diagnostic chest X-rays for tuberculosis or pneumonia had more than twice the normal risk of breast cancer.

COMMENT: Conventional medicine stopped using routine annual chest xrays years ago because of the increased risk of cancer.  It is time for women to understand that routine mammograms are leading to the same endpoint. For each 1 rad of radiation (which is about 2 mammograms) the risk of cancer is increased by 1 percent.  Radiation accumulates it doesn’t simply pass through the tissues onto the plastic plate.

Thermography’s only error is that it is “too early.” The tools to address a positive thermogram include diet, exercise, iodine, and other neutraceuticals that conventional doctors know little, if anything, about.  It is in this capacity that the paradigm must shift.

Increasing the widespread use of thermography is an exciting opportunity. By painlessly screening younger women using a high resolution tool without radiation, we may be able to prevent or minimize not only cancer, but all breast disease.

Thermography: Redefining the Meaning of Early Detection

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Mammograms fail…again

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In the push to get MRIs approved for breast cancer screening, the ugly truth about the poor performance of mammography is coming to light.

In the August issue of The Lancet, a study was reported that included 7,319 women who were followed for 5 years at a national academic breast center in Germany. During that time, 193 women were diagnosed through surgical biopsy with “pure” ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS.  Of those, 167 had undergone both mammography and MRI preoperatively. The MRI had correctly identified 92 percent of DCIS while mammograms had missed almost half (46 percent).  With high-grade DCIS, MRI picked up all 89 tumors; mammography missed half (48 percent.) 

COMMENT: This study is being lauded across news outlets as a “break through” for early detection of breast cancer but be not deceived: It’s not prevention. The MRI is identifying the tiny specks of calcification that cannot be detected by a mammogram.

DCIS is not life-threatening. It is non-invasive, and is considered the earliest form of cancer—Stage 0. Most women who are diagnosed with DCIS are treated with radiation in an attempt to prevent recurrences.  However, a new cancer may turn up 25 years later—or longer. This usually happens in the same area of the breast where the DCIS was.  Sadly, there are steps that can be taken to improve health — such as the right nutrients, iodine and estrogen-lowering supplements — that can help prevent cancer from coming back.

The intent of the research on MRIs (this is one of many) is to force  insurance companies to approve MRIs for annual screenings to the tune of  $1000-1500 per exam in comparison to about $150 for screening mammograms.   That means insurance premiums will increase; those costs will be passed along to the insured.

Most importantly, research on MRIs should clearly point out the undeserved confidence women have been programmed to have in mammograms.  A normal annual xray may be nothing more than a temporary clean bill of health. This fully explains why women can have a normal mammogram five-six-seven years in a row and then the next year, they have cancer. The Lancet study confirms mammograms are *not* early detection!

The goal of breast health is to find areas of concern — and address them — before the tissues degrade to cancer.  While thermograms do not identify non-invasive calcifications, they have the ability to detect areas of DCIS that are starting to become aggressive, reflected as increased heat.   

Thermography: Redefining the meaning of “Early Detection.”

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False Positive Mammograms

Thermography has been dismissed as unreliable by conventional physicians, claiming that the tool produces too many false positives.  Research since the 1970s has reported a false positive rate for thermography ranging from 6 to 13 percent.

Mammograms have a similar false positive rate.  How many times are women called back for “extra views” or had a biopsy that turned out to be benign (by the way, eight of ten biopsies are normal.) Those extra tests are a result of a false positive mammogram interpretation

Radiologists vary greatly in their ability to accurately interpret mammograms.  The most accurate interpretations are by physicians who have at least 25 years of experience, interpret 2,500 to 4,000 mammograms annually and have a practice focused on screening. However, the overall range of accuracy is frightening. 

In a study published in 2005 by U.S. Army Medical Research for its “Era of Hope Project,” radiologists (on average) accurately identified only 77 percent of cancers. For individual radiologists, the detection rate ranged from 29 percent to 97 percent. Think about that: Some physicians only found about 30 percent of tumors on a mammogram.  

Researchers further reported that while the average false positive rate for mammograms was 10%, the overall false positive reporting rate for individual physicians ranged from 1 percent to almost 30 percent.  A meta-analysis of 117 studies published April, 2007 in Annals of Internal Medicine  reported that false-positive results are 20% to 56% after 10 mammograms.

COMMENT: For thermogram nay-sayers, the facts speak for themselves. Thermography is at least as good as, and in many cases, provides more information than mammograms. In addition, it is painless and uses no radiation.

The bulk of the research involving breast thermography was conducted in the 1980s. State-of-the-art, ultra-sensitive infrared cameras and sophisticated computer software has evolved to detect, analyze, and produce high-resolution images.  The problems encountered with first generation infrared camera systems, such as improper detector sensitivity (low-band), thermal drift, calibration problems, analog interface, etc. have been solved for almost two decades.  Think about the difference between black and white televisions and the new plasma screen TVs. Consider the evolution from the first computers that were housed in rooms to the handheld gigabyte gadgets common today. Technology progresses in every area; tools used today for breast thermography are vastly improved over equipment used twenty years ago. The results showed its usefulness then; the new tools make it even more important now. 

It’s time to put this technology in its rightful place as an important tool for breast health. Using thermography will redefine the meaning of Early Detection.

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Breast Cancer Incidence Linked to Mammogram Use

A study released on August 1 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute confirms that the rise in breast cancer incidence throughout the 1980s and early 1990s was consistent with the simultaneous adoption of screening  mammography

In addition, the new research fortifies the findings of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative: The rising and falling trends of breast cancer throughout the same period parallel the increasing, then declining, use of menopausal hormone therapy.

COMMENT: Synthetic hormones have long been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.  Another study released this month in The British Medical Journal reinforces that the risk of breast cancer, stroke and blood clots from synthetic HRT outweighs its ability to prevent hip fracture, heart disease and colon cancer. (Source: BMJ, 2007; 335: 239-44)

Since the 1990s, radiation from routine mammograms has been known to pose significant risk of initiating and promoting breast cancer.  Contrary to conventional assurances, radiation from a mammogram isn’t minimal.  Typically, a screening mammogram consists of two views of each breast, one from above and one from the side. Images are obtained by compressing breast tissue between two plastic plates.  If an abnormality is found, a diagnostic mammogram will be necessary which involves additional views.  Each view can expose the breast to as much as 0.2 rad per x-ray (a rad is a measure of radiation dose).

All this radiation is cumulative over time and each 1.0 rad of exposure increases the risk of breast cancer by 1 percent.  (Add up the total number of mammograms and views you’ve had to estimate your additional risk.) The breast tissue of pre-menopausal women, ages 40 to 50, is highly sensitive to radiation, possibly increasing the risk even more.    

The American Cancer Society believes the use of regular mammograms, MRIs,  and clinical breast exams for early detection is the best opportunity for reducing the breast cancer death rate. Notice that their focus is on reducing the death rate, not in reducing the incidence.

Instead of developing higher resolution mammograms and MRIs, research dollars should be spent on finding the causes of breast cancer and then developing programs to avoid them.  The focus needs to shift from cancer survival to an overall rate of breast cancer.  Eliminating the use of synthetic HRT is a step in the right direction…but more needs to be done. Early detection just isn’t good enough and won’t change the future health for women.

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Mammograms for Boomers

The number of older women with breast cancer is forecast to double by 2030, as baby boomers age.  Experts are now advising doctors to reach out through phone calls and letters to make sure that older breast cancer survivors to get yearly “surveillance” mammography routinely, regardless of their age.  A new study demonstrates that those who receive annual surveillance mammography after breast cancer may give the opportunity to “decrease death from breast cancer.”

COMMENT: This article is revealing. The current rate of breast cancer is one in every eight women; doubling that rate will put the incidence at one in every four.  That is 25 percent of the population. Recommending annual mammograms may find cancer reoccurences early and increase the likelihood of survival, but that will not stop the steep upward trend of breast cancer.

Read my new article, “How to Avoid Hearing ‘You have breast cancer…‘”   You’ll be glad that you did.

Abnormal Mammograms Leave Their Mark…Psychologically

According to a new study in Value in Health, women really are damaged by the psychological stress of an abnormal mammogram finding that turns out to be benign. The  co-author of the study, John Bordersen reported that previous studies of the long-term psychological consequences of these false alarms have used inadequate measures. 

The latest survey, developed by Brodersen and his colleagues, focuses on six psychosocial dimensions; anxiety, behavioral impact, sense of dejection, impact on sleep, breast examination and sexuality. The survey showed that women who had an abnormal screening mammography later confirmed to be false-positive were negatively impacted in all six categories.   

Original Article: Validation of a Condition-Specific Measure for Women Having an Abnormal Screening Mammography.  Institute of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

COMMENT: Between 10 and 25 percent of women who undergo a screening mammogram are called back for further tests. The vast majority of these follow up visits find nothing to be concerned about. But in the mean time, women are under a lot of stress, leading to increased cortisol levels. This hormone, produced by the adrenal glands, activates three separate enzymes in the breast.  The result is increased levels of estrogen in the tissues…and if there is an abnormality present, increased estrogen can “feed” the problem.  The result? The finding may be benign this year, but a very small abnormality may start to grow…

The addition of thermography could greatly reduce fears of an abnormal mammogram. If the area is “cool” on the thermogram, it is likely that the mammogram finding is benign.  Conversely, if the thermogram finding is “hot,” there is reason for concern. 

At the VilleMarie clinic in Montreal, Canada, Professor John Keyserlingk has been combining thermography with mammography for nearly a decade. In a study published in 1998 he reported that the value-added of a thermogram increased cancer detection rates from 85 per cent to 95 per cent.  (REF: J. Keyserlingk, M.D.; Time to Reassess the Value of Infrared Breast Imaging? Oncology News Int., 1997; V 6, No. 9.)
Similarly, a study published in 2003 by Dr. Yuri Parisky found thermography could help to distinguish benign and malignant lesions in patients undergoing biopsy. The findings did not correlate 100 percent, but nothing in medicine ever is 100% certain.  

Thermography is a breast health tool that can save you *lots* of anxiety.