It’s a phone call no woman wants to get.
Something was wrong with your mammogram results – you need more tests.
The next thing you know, you’re being hauled in for additional mammograms, needle biopsies, and maybe even surgery.
It’s agonizing… it’s nerve-wracking… and for far too many, it’s totally unnecessary.
Because a new study out of Harvard is exposing how botched “false positive” mammogram results are wrecking women’s lives and costing billions.
And researchers are warning that a simple mammogram could force you into a long and dangerous cycle of overtreatment – whether you have cancer or not.
Sore breasts and frayed nerves
Women are being misdiagnosed and over-treated for breast cancer – and mammograms are a big part of the problem.
That’s what Dr. Kenneth Mandl, a professor at Harvard Medical School, found when he pored over data from 700,000 women.
These women all had regular mammograms during a two-year period – and a whopping 77,000 were told their mammogram results were suspicious. They were poked, prodded and zapped with more radiation – some were even sent for painful biopsies.
But in nearly 99 percent of cases, there was no cancer at all. Just a lot of women with sore breasts and frayed nerves.
The ugly truth about mammograms is that they’re notoriously unreliable and often produce stressful false-positive results. The problem is so widespread that Mandl estimates Americans spend $4 billion a year on pointless follow-ups and tests after inaccurate mammograms.
But false-positives aren’t the only way mammograms lead to overtreatment. Mammograms often detect tumors that are small, slow growing, or not growing at all – but the mainstream typically overreacts with painful and disfiguring procedures.
It’s a recipe, Dr. Mandl says, for “mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, in women who may not have needed any medical treatment at all.”
Of course, whenever you question what the mainstream regards as one of its gold standards (not to mention cash-cows), you can expect to face a firing squad of reprimand. And it looks like they’re already taking aim at Dr. Mandl.
The biggest attack, as you might expect, is coming from Mammograms, Inc., a.k.a. the American Cancer Society.
For years ACS has been preaching its harmful mantra that annual mammograms are absolutely necessary. ACS even wants women to start getting the test at age 40 – and they’ll tell you that any doctor who disagrees is guilty of heresy.
But that flies in the face of one of the largest and most comprehensive studies done on mammograms. One that concluded they don’t save lives — despite the giant marketing machine that keeps women lined up for this test year after year,
That research out of Canada was a 25-year study of 90,000 women. And it found that:
- Mammograms do not lower the number of women who are dying from breast cancer. The death rate for both groups in the study – those who took mammograms and those who didn’t – was almost exactly the same.
- Mammograms are leading to over-diagnosis of breast cancer. This means the test often finds tumors that do not require treatment.
- There was no advantage in finding breast cancers with a mammogram when they were too small to detect in an exam done by hand.
- One in five cancers found by mammograms are the kind that should not be treated. Yet, women who are told they have breast cancer often undergo surgery, chemo and radiation, not knowing what the best course of action is.
You can just imagine how that research was attacked. But that’s always the case when long-held beliefs are debunked.
Dr. Mandl, however, isn’t backing down. He said he’s hoping that the $4 billion financial cost he uncovered will help bring into the spotlight the other cost of mammograms — the human one.
“The hidden cost of mammograms: More testing and overtreatment” Patti Neighmond, April 13, 2015, NPR, npr.org