According to the NIH, approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. While technically true, this number is extremely misleading as it’s based on the lifetime risk of a woman who reaches the age of 90 years old, an age where breast cancer is exponentially more likely.
By way of contrast, the average 35 year old woman has only a 1 in 217 risk of developing breast cancer. Nevertheless, conventional health care practitioners and the American Cancer Society tend to err on the side of caution by stressing the importance of yearly mammograms for women over the age of 40.
However, recent studies illuminate that mammograms may have minimal benefit for younger women and women less at risk for developing breast cancer. Given this research and the detrimental effects excessive radiation, overdiagnosis and over treatment resulting from mammograms can have on otherwise healthy breast tissue and women’s emotional health, there is much debate about their efficacy as a diagnostic tool.
This debate became personal when my primary care physician handed me a referral for my first annual mammogram. Like most women, I was aware of the pros and cons, but didn’t want to take chances with my health, so I obliged. My caution was rewarded with what seemed like an endless series of excruciating mammograms, an ultrasound, a referral to a breast surgeon and a stereotactic needle biopsy, all of which resulted in a benign (noncancerous) diagnosis and months of needless uncertainty, anxiety and fear.
So this year, after a clean mammogram (following three years of meditation, yoga, a mostly raw food diet and a rigorous detox regime – learn about my journey here and here), when my breast surgeon recommended I schedule another six-month follow-up mammogram and begin taking anti-cancer prescription drug Tamoxifen “just to be on the safe side,” I opted instead for a second opinion. I met with health consultant and researcher Dr. Howard Jacobson, Ph.D, contributing author to Whole and Proteinaholic, who helped me challenge some of the most common myths about breast health, including the necessity for excessive mammogram screenings. Read on before booking your next one.
1. Lie #1: Read all about lie #1 here.
2. Lies #2, 3, 4: Read about them here.
5. Lie #5: The best way to reduce your risk of breast cancer is taking prescription drug Tamoxifen.
Tamoxifen manufacturer AstraZeneca claims that the drug reduces breast cancer risk by 29%. They even publicize this number by paying doctors to promote it at medical conferences. But the truth is quite different: according to the same study AstraZeneca cites for this statistic, Tamoxifen only reduces the risk of developing breast cancer by 2.8%, from 9.8% to 7%. Though even a small reduction may be worth it for women who have already been diagnosed, the listed side effects of stroke, uterine cancer, and non-melanoma skin cancers are hardly worth the benefits for healthy women. In addition, the AstraZeneca data show that Tamoxifen actually increases actual death rates from breast cancer.
6. Lie #6: Breast Surgery (Lumpectomy, Mastectomy) is necessary to remove cancer after a diagnosis.
Since many cancer diagnoses are just plain wrong, breast surgery will not help remove cancer that was never there to begin with. The most common form of breast cancer is Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, also known as DCIS, a slow-growing form of cancer. Some researchers estimate that about 20 to 30 percent of DCIS and invasive breast cancers found with mammography may be over-diagnosed.
According to the Komen Foundation, left untreated, only 40 to 50 percent of DCIS cases may actually progress to invasive breast cancer. Since not all cases of DCIS become invasive breast cancer, many women who would have never developed invasive breast cancer – with or without treatment – are being subjected to lumpectomies, mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy they never actually needed. Unfortunately, surgery can actually accelerate the growth of “distant metastases,” meaning cancer growth in other parts of the body.
Like DCIS, many cancers are so slow-growing that most women will die with them, not from them. And simple lifestyle changes can slow, halt, and even reverse many cases of breast cancer.
7. Lie #7: Genetics are the major risk factor for breast cancer.
While some women (specifically those with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) are at higher risk of breast cancer than others, these risks can be reduced significantly through a clean, plant-based diet. Populations who eat less meat, dairy, and processed foods have fewer rates of breast cancer. And when people from those populations migrate to countries that eat animal-based diets with lots of junk food, their rates of breast and other cancers quickly rise to match that of their new environment. Genes are like the weed seeds of cancer. Diet is the soil, sun, nutrients, water, and weeding that either let the weeds spread or suppress them to grow healthy crops instead.
Up Next: Lies #8, 9 + 10.