HSI – The Health Sciences Institute. UK Edition 19th December 2011
We’ve written to you many times in the past about mammograms. Despite the fact that this breast cancer screening procedure is painful and risky the mainstream still chooses to cling to it like it’s a long lost child.
In recent years, mounting evidence has challenged the validity and safety of mammograms in breast cancer prevention… Now, a recent study by Southampton University researchers has found that too many screening programmes, including mammograms, lead to misdiagnosed results and the overtreatment of harmless breast lumps.
Weighing up the pros and cons
When it comes to cancer, an early diagnosis is absolutely imperative and screening programmes are supposedly designed to save lives through early diagnosis of cancer. The question now is, has the mainstream got it wrong?
Back in 2001, a controversial report, published in the medical journal The Lancet, concluded that breast cancer screening, offered to all women in the UK over the age of 50, does not reduce deaths. Even back then some experts felt that screening may do more harm than good.
Now, 10 years later, the latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, echoes exactly the same sentiment. The Southampton researchers say that the negative outcomes of screening programmes cancel out up to half of the benefits that others get from living longer lives.
In short, this means that while a positive result after screening may give an extra year of life to one breast cancer victim, it could result in six months’ worth of suffering due to unnecessary treatment for another patient.
Previous research has shown that for every 2,000 screenings, 200 women will have a “false positive” result and 10 of those women will have unnecessary surgery, but only one life will be saved.
The lead researcher of the Southampton study, Prof James Raftery, said: “To save one life, that woman will have surgery, but 10 more will have surgery that do not need it. The reason is they have lumps that are diagnosed as cancer but… most of those lumps would not have gone on to become cancer or to have killed a person.”
Needless surgery cuts the benefits
In 1986, the Forrest Report led to the introduction of breast cancer screening in the UK. According to the Forrest Report, the effectiveness of these screening programmes would be measured in “quality of life years” (QALYs) — the extra years of life patients gain as a result of screening.
Back then, it was estimated that screening programmes would gain patients 3,301 QALYs over a 20-year-period. However, this estimate did not take into account the potential harm of false positive results. As a result, the damaging impact of false positive diagnoses and needless surgery cut the expected QALYs of 3,301, by more than half to 1,536 QALYs, according to the results of the latest study.
The researchers added that for the first eight years, women were more likely to be harmed than to enjoy any benefit. Only 20 years after screening do the net benefits for patients really begin to accumulate.
Prof Raftery said: “”There are lots of women who have had surgery who believe their lives were saved when in fact only around one in 10 has had their life saved.”
Lay out the options
Of course, this does not mean that women should stop being screened for breast cancer altogether. However, patients should be warned about the possible negative effects of screening and have a better understanding of the risks of unnecessary treatment before they are screened. Yet this is clearly not happening…
A damning report from the Cochrane Collaboration, published in 2010, said that women are being seriously misled by health officials who dramatically downplay the risks of mammography X-rays while overstating the benefits. The report also questioned the prevailing view that mammograms save lives and says that this is based on shoddy and biased science.
Women should also be given the option to choose the method of screening they prefer. As I mentioned earlier, mammograms are extremely painful and invasive procedures. The real kicker is that a breast cancer tumour is only detected by a mammogram after it’s grown for several years, and achieved more than 25 doublings of the malignant cell colony. So, by the time you get a warning from your mammogram the tumour may already be at a growth-stage where it is too difficult and too late to treat. Worse still, the compression required for mammograms can actually break down cancer tissue and rupture small blood vessels that support the cancer, causing it to spread.
Luckily, there are safer and less painful screening options, like thermography or thermal imaging. Mammograms look at anatomical changes in the breast, as they detect masses or lumps in the breast tissue. Thermograms, on the other hand, look at vascular changes in the breast, as they detect blood flow patterns, inflammation and asymmetries, which allows them to detect irregular patterns in the breast before a noticeable lump is formed.
In the case of inflammatory cancer, there are no detectable lumps, which makes self-examination and mammograms pointless. However, thermography will certainly help in these cases with an early detection.
Thermal imaging does not cause pain, is non-invasive and quick – your multi-image examinations usually take less than 15 minutes. Plus, it makes no contact with your body – no compression (unlike mammograms) and it emits absolutely NO radiation.
It all adds up: No radiation, no squashing and bruising, early detection, quicker diagnoses and prevention and a healthier cancer-free you!
‘Breast cancer screening could cause more harm than good’ published online 09.12.11, telegraph.co.uk