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.
Lie #1: Mammograms are the best early detection tool for breast cancer.
There are several different kinds of breast cancer, including inflammatory, metastatic, invasive ductal carcinoma, triple negative breast cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma in situ, and even male breast cancer. Unfortunately, mammogram technology is limited to two dimensional x-ray photos of breast tissue. In addition to using radiation, which can be harmful to delicate breast tissue when used over and over, mammograms can generally detect only the slowest growing cancers and small benign tumors (pseudo-cancers) that don’t pose significant health risks. As a result, they can easily miss the fast growing cancers that can develop between annual exams, like inflammatory breast cancer. Consequently, they can provide a false sense of security, keeping women from taking meaningful preventive steps like improving diet and lifestyle to minimize cancer risk.
As an alternative, many women are turning to more comprehensive screening tools, like ultrasound and thermography, which monitors minute physiological and metabolic changes in the breasts. These tools can more safely predict breast cancer way before a lump has time to form and be detected via mammography.
Up Next Tomorrow: Lies #2, 3, 4.