Mammograms not the lifesavers we’ve been led to believe

Could the age of mammography as the gold standard in saving lives be coming to a close?

If so, it would be a big step forward for all women!

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Yale researchers has confirmed many of the things we’ve told eAlert readers over the years regarding mammography and the overdiagnosis of breast cancer.

And it smashes to smithereens practically everything mainstream medicine has told us about the test.

‘A case of overdiagnosis’

“For 100 years we thought that small cancers had a better prognosis because we caught them earlier,” says the co-author of this new study, Dr. Donald Lannin.

But if there ever was a “whoops” moment, this is it.

Because it turns out those small cancers, the ones mammograms are so good at picking up, are “fundamentally different,” according to Dr. Lannin.

And when he says “different,” he means slow-growing or even no-growing tumors that are unlikely to need immediate treatment, if they ever even get to that point.

Doctors refer to the period between when a cancer is diagnosed and when it becomes a problem as the “lead time.” The popular theory is that the lead time for breast cancer is around three or four years, which translates into early and aggressive treatments.

This new study, however, found that for the majority of small cancers, that lead time is more like two decades. And “early detection of them,” Dr. Lannin said, “is actually a case of overdiagnosis.”

But what about highly aggressive breast cancers?

His study analyzed that as well, finding that by the time large tumors are picked up in a mammogram, they can also easily be detected in a physical exam, something “people hadn’t really realized.”

This study involved analysis of several thousand breast cancer cases that were collected in a database run by the National Cancer Institute over a 12-year span.

But though other experts have joined in with comments noting that the benefits of mammography have been “exaggerated” while we’ve “understated its harms,” you shouldn’t be at all surprised if your doctor just shakes his head in disbelief.

Given that even questioning this sacred test is akin to medical treason, I’m almost surprised that these highly respected Yale doctors even came forward with their findings.

And while this is big news, it’s far from the first time mammography has been found to cause more harm than good.

For example:

  • Early this year, I told you about a study out of Denmark that examined the records of 95,000 women who were told they had breast cancer. And despite all that screening, it didn’t “reduce the incidence of advanced tumors,” the researchers said. The study author commented that a breast-cancer diagnosed by a mammogram typically leads to “overtreatment” that can have “lethal consequences.”
  • Last year, another study that was also published in the NEJM revealed that 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer due to a mammogram would not have died from the disease, even if it remained undetected.
  • A big Canadian study that came out several years ago determined that routine mammograms don’t reduce breast cancer deaths and that one in five cancers found by this test need no further treatment.

And along with all the problems present when mammograms are correct, there’s also the big issue of false alarms. These screenings are notorious for being extremely unreliable and have put scores of women through additional unnecessary tests and painful procedures they never needed in the first place.

If you’re still on the fence about that yearly mammogram, perhaps the best thing you can take to heart is what Professor of Medicine H. Gilbert Welch had to say — that mammography finds far too many “cancers that may be better off not found.”

“Some small tumors in breasts may not be so bad after all” Rob Stein, June 7, 2017, NPR, npr.org