Let’s have some straight talk and commonsense around the mammography controversy that has erupted this week. The bottom line is, this controversy has nothing to do with concern over women’s health, and everything to do with money and politics.
On Monday (Nov 16), the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (PSTF), part of the government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, released a report that recommends against routine mammography screenings for women ages 40 to 49. They recommend that women ages 50 to 74 have a mammogram every two years.
This recommendation reverses PSTF guidelines issued in 2002, recommending that women ages 40 and up have yearly routine mammograms. This 2002 guideline was made, by a different group then at the PSTF, based on money and politics, not on facts or evidence. The reversal of the 2002 guideline this week is based on what is best for women. It also happens to save billions of dollars in healthcare costs and to spare millions of women from unnecessary biopsies and treatments and the enormous expense and stress of that unnecessary medical care.
The controversy is all about those billions of dollars that won’t be flowing into the mammogram industry—the manufacturers, the hospitals, the clinics, the radiologists, the oncologists, the labs doing the biopsies, and so forth. Make no mistake, routine mammographic screening is an industrial machine and an enormous cash cow.
When the PSTF released these recommendations on Monday, via an article in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the American Cancer Society (ACS) simultaneously set loose a blizzard of negative and vitriolic PR saying they disagree with the PSTF change in mammography screening guidelines. The slick, expensive and hysterical ACS campaign was obviously prepared well ahead of time, and includes clips of women in their 40s whose breast cancer was detected via mammogram; clips of women saying “This is Obamacare! Women are going to die! This is gendercide!” and clips of doctors saying the new guidelines are “outrageous” and “dangerous.”
And yet, just a few weeks ago, the head of the ACS spoke to New York Times science writer Gina Kolata (Cancer Group Has Concerns On Screenings) and revealed that the ACS was about to change its recommendations for cancer screenings because overscreening was causing more problems than it was solving, and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Shortly thereafter, the ACS backpeddled and changed its mind. For more details on this sordid little saga, read Dr. Ralph Moss’ article, Discord on Mammography Roils the ACS. Apparently since the ACS started backpeddling, it has been busy spending millions of dollars on a campaign to attack the new PSTF recommendations and to frighten American women into continuing to be overscreened for breast cancer, and to endure unnecessary, expensive and stressful biopsies and treatments.
Kolata’s current article, Panel Urges Mammograms at 50, Not 40 on the PSTF’s new guidelines, curiously does not mention the earlier article in which the ACS was apparently on board with those new guidelines.
The fact is that mammography is, and always has been, a poorly conceived, poorly studied, primitive, ineffective and dangerous way to detect breast cancer, that likely has caused as much breast cancer as it has detected.
We know without any shadow of a doubt that radiation exposure increases the risk of breast cancer. Samuel Epstein MD estimates that over 10 years of routine mammography a premenopausal woman receives almost half as much radiation as was measurable within a mile of the epicenter of the Hiroshima atom bomb explosion.
The very fact that this method of screening for breast cancer was even invented and then allowed into modern medicine is almost incomprehensible. Since mammography screening began, there has been no decline in deaths from breast cancer due to early detection, and no overall drop in deaths from breast cancer that can be attributed to mammography. Routine mammography screening does detect more breast cancers, but it does not save more lives.
The population of women being fought over right now, those from 40 to 49, have denser breast tissue than menopausal women, which makes their breast cancer tumors very difficult to detect on mammograms. Most breast cancer tumors in women this age are likely caught by the women themselves, in the shower. But we don’t know for sure, because that research has never been done!
The “experts” who are defending routine mammograms for women under 50 are saying, and I paraphrase, “Mammograms don’t work that well but it’s all we have so we have to keep doing it!” That is so not true. We have thermography, which is an excellent way to detect breast cancer tumors, but it has never caught on because it’s so safe, easy and inexpensive. It can even distinguish between rapidly growing and slow growing breast tumors, as detailed in the ACS’s very own journal Cancer, in June 2006 (Breast thermography and cancer risk prediction), which concluded, “Thermography is useful not only as a predictor of risk factor for cancer but also to assess the more rapidly growing neoplasms.” The research cited in this study was done 2o to 30 years ago, and thermography, which is now digital, has come a long way since then.
Here’s a helpful article about thermography by Sherrill Sellman, ND, Thermography – Seeing Into the Future and a brochure from a digital thermography company that gives good examples of what a thermogram sees.
Suzanne Sommers’ new bestselling book Knockout takes a one-two punch at America’s cancer industry, and includes dirt on the mammogram industry. But even better, she shines a spotlight on a few of the courageous physicians in the U.S. who are having success with alternative cancer treatments. While I don’t agree with Sommers’ mega-dose approach to bioidentical hormone therapy, she is doing a great service to American health by using her celebrity and huge audience to educate, inform and tell the truth about our terribly dysfunctional and destructive medical industry. In spite of the conventional medical PR machine that is slamming and smearing Sommers, her new book is at the top of the bestseller lists.
Here’s an article by John R. Lee, M.D., Routine Mammograms–Should We or Shouldn’t We, which details some of the evidence against mammograms. There is also helpful information about mammograms, and about breast cancer prevention in our book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Breast Cancer.