[back] Mammography

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The mammogram scam 

by Marnie Ko

It takes a brave man to criticize long established traditions and years of prevailing medical wisdom. But on the weekend, Dr. W. Gifford Jones, aka Ken Walker, M.D., a syndicated columnist writing for over 200 newspapers, including the Edmonton Sun, did just that. And he knew when he did it that he was tipping over one of medicine's sacred cows.

Jones' article lays bare the long-standing lies about the safety of mammograms, as well as the procedure's effectiveness. The bottom line? Unsuspecting women have been made guinea pigs for years, while the great majority of doctors and cancer researchers deride claims from credible colleagues that medical radiation causes cancer.

For starters, notes Dr. Jones, women between 40 and 49 who have regular mammogram screening are twice as likely, three years later, to die from breast cancer than women who kept their breasts in their shirts.

Research by the Nordic Cochrane Center in Denmark found that for every 2,000 women who had mammograms over the course of 10 years, only one life would be prolonged, while 10 women would be treated with unnecessary radiation and potentially harmful treatments. Meanwhile, according to a 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, both standard mammograms and the newer digital imaging methods miss 30% of cancer in women in their 40s.

In addition to misdiagnosis, a growing body of experts believe that the radiation women are exposed to through radiation is not worth the risk. One source suggests that mammograms have 250 to 500 times more radiation than an x-ray. John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Molecular & Cell Biology, at the University of California at Berkeley, also has in-depth calculations of radiation harm on his website.

Jones also notes that, in addition to causing pain, squeezing the delicate breast tissue can rupture sensitive blood vessels. If a tumor is present, it may burst and spread potentially cancerous cells.

Women have been lied to. They've been bombing their boobs with radiation for at least the last 15 years, sometimes beginning in their 20s, when the risk of cancer is miniscule. If you are one of those women who have been feeling vaguely uncomfortable about having your breasts manhandled, and regularly flattened and squished into a cold x-ray machine, then sit up and pay attention.

Early diagnosis, says the Harvard-educated, Toronto-based Dr. Jones, who is also an OB/Gyn Specialist, is a lie. "It takes eight years before a lump is large enough to detect which provides enough time for cancer cells to spread to other areas." This is hardly early diagnosis, he points out.

The younger the woman, the higher the risk of radiation, and it's a cumulative effect. Meaning the more x-rays you have, the greater your risk of cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has released statistics that show, in women under 35, mammograms can cause 75 cases of breast cancer for every 15 diagnosed.

Plus, the misdiagnosis rate is astronomical. In one Swedish study with 60,000 women, 70% of tumors detected by a mammogram weren't tumors at all. Along with the incredible emotional stress and worry caused by a misdiagnosis, many of these women end up with invasive biopsies which turn out to be unnecessary. 70 to 80 percent of tumors diagnosed in a mammogram don't even have any cancer when they are subsequently biopsied.

Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, in his book The Politics Of Cancer, argues that in women ages 40 to 49, one in four instances of cancer is missed at each mammography. The NCI puts the false negative rate even higher, at 40 percent among women ages 40-49. The National Institutes of Health also admits that mammograms miss 10 percent of malignant tumors in women over 50.

Russell L. Blaylock, MD, notes that annual radiological breast exams can increase the risk of breast cancer by two percent a year, which is, at minimum, a 20% greater risk over a 10 year period.

As early as 2001, highly distinguished medical experts were warning women to lay off the x-rays. Dr. Gofman presents extensive research to support his conclusion that about 75 percent of breast cancer cases are caused by ionizing radiation (meaning the kind you get via medical treatment).

While savvy consumers might read something questioning mammogram safety on the internet or in an alternative health magazine, the majority of women still operate in an information vacuum, believing the doctors who assure them that mammograms are safe, and could save their lives.

Dr. Gifford-Jones isn't going to make many new friends among his colleagues, those mammogram zealots sitting on their Olympian perches. But, he has a point. And that is that nothing in medicine is so sacred that it's untouchable. It's unethical, says Dr. Gifford-Jones, not to publish bad news. Even if it means doctors have been "wrong about the benefits of mammography after stressing its need for so many years."

The fact is, medicine has a long history of practices, drugs, and procedures that later turned out to be not so smart. There was Thalidomide, Rezulin, Serzone, and Phlebotomy (bloodletting), just to list a few.

Indeed, back in 1380, medicine had advanced so much over the ages that doctors (who were also sometimes the local butcher) could diagnose over 3000 diseases complete with their Latin names! Mind you, they only had three known cures for all these ailments: herbs, leeches, and sawing off the diseased part.

Now if that sounds archaic to you, relax. If you have a mammogram, and end up with a diagnosis of a tumor or cancer, the doctor won't bring out a rusty old saw to cut your breast off. Our highly sophisticated medical doctors now spend years in school and use shiny sharp scalpels.