The mammography myth has taken another big blow.
This time it came from a comprehensive study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that poked the “early detection saves lives” mantra so full of holes it’s now sinking like a lead weight.
But beyond that, the researchers say that mammography is causing hundreds of thousands of women every year needless suffering and anxiety.
And that’s because they’re being scared silly into risky procedures that are causing them a lot more harm than good.
This new research is telling us once again that mammography is far from the lifesaver we’ve been told it is.
Sure, we’ve all heard the stories about how a woman was encouraged by a friend or her better half to take the test — and it saved her life!
But as I’ve been telling you over the years, it is not that simple.
It’s more likely to be something that will upend your life “without prolonging it.” That’s how Dr. Michael LeFevre, who serves on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, sums up routine mammography.
And yes, the researchers said that as more women get yearly mammograms, more and more breast cancers will be discovered.
That, however, isn’t necessarily a good thing.
First, there’s the big issue of false positives that will lead many women to suffer needless pain from biopsies, surgery, radiation and even unnecessary mastectomies.
But even if the cancer diagnosis is correct, the mantra of “when in doubt, cut it out,” is just as wrong.
Dr. Joann Elmore from the University of Washington wrote an editorial that was published along with this study calling all that slicing and dicing “collateral damage” from “well intentioned” doctors.
You see, just as in a large majority of prostate cancers, most breast cancers (especially that non-cancer “cancer” called ductal carcinoma in situ) are not life-threatening. Data from the National Cancer Institute shows that the lion’s share of suspicious results turned up by a mammogram would be perfectly fine if simply left alone.
The NEJM researchers said that up to 80 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer due to mammography wouldn’t have died from the disease even if their cancers were never detected to begin with.
While findings like those are still rocking the mainstream boat, believe it or not, we have made some improvements over the years.
For example, just a few decades ago you probably ran the risk of jail time for saying things like that about mammography. In the 1980s the American Cancer Society ran ads that said if you didn’t get a mammogram you “need more than your breasts examined.”
Now, we’ve got experts from all corners of the globe trying to put the kibosh on routine screenings.
As I’ve said for more years than I can count, mammography is backwards and barbaric. Aside from what this new research has revealed, there’s also the not-so-little issue of the brutal compression of your breasts that evidence has shown can cause the spread of an existing cancer. Plus, mammograms expose you to radiation and can help cancers grow.
Of course, no matter how many studies are done or experts who come forward to warn us, most doctors will still be telling you to get that mammogram, because it saves lives and that’s that.
But as one expert said, “indiscriminate testing can be a recipe for being made sick.”
And while the mammography debate rages on, one of the most important breast cancer detection methods — a self-breast exam — often gets left behind. Learn how to do it from a trained nurse and do it every month.
“Majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer after screening mammograms get unnecessary treatment, study finds” Melissa Healy, October 12, 2016, The Los Angeles Times, latimes.com