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Should You Refuse Your Annual Mammogram?

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October is heavily marketed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month to promote the value of screening and early detection. This concerted effort to make women aware of breast cancer has been promoted extensively by the mammography industry.

My advice to women, especially those eating a plant-based diet, is to forego your annual screening mammogram.

These mammograms are done on women who have no symptoms and no reason to suspect that anything is wrong. If you have found a lump or other specific symptom, then is the time to visit your doctor and schedule a diagnostic mammogram.

In his book, Over-Diagnosed, author Dr. H. Gilbert Welch writes, “based on all studies of screening mammography, there is only an estimated 15 percent reduction in the chance of dying from breast cancer.” He continues, “For every one breast cancer death avoided by screening mammograms, somewhere between two and ten women are overdiagnosed.” That overdiagnosis results in more lumpectomies, mastectomies, radiation and chemotherapy.

In 1999, when considerable doubt was raised in Denmark about the value of mammography screening, the Danish National Board of Health asked physician and scientist Peter C Gøtzsche from The Nordic Cochrane Centre to assess the mammography screening trials. The report later became extended as a Cochrane review, which is the most comprehensive review of the screening trials there is.

Because most mammography screening materials only list the benefits of screening, The Nordic Cochrane Centre wrote their own brochure, which has now been translated into 13 languages. It includes the following information:

  • If 2000 women are screened regularly for 10 years, 10 healthy women will be turned into cancer patients and will be treated unnecessarily. These women will have either a part of their breast or the whole breast removed, and they will often receive radiotherapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.
  • Treatment of these healthy women increases their risk of dying, e.g. from heart disease and cancer.
  • Without screening, these women would have been OK.
  • Studies from the United States, Sweden and Norway suggest that half or more of the screen-detected cancers would have disappeared spontaneously, if they had been left alone, without any treatment at all. Most of the earliest cell changes found at screening (carcinoma in situ) are also harmless, as they would never have progressed into invasive cancer.
  • Some of those early cell changes (carcinoma in situ) are often found in several places in the breast. Therefore, the whole breast is removed in one out of four of these cases, although only a minority of the cell changes would have developed into cancer.
  • The psychological strain until it is known whether or not there is a cancer, can be severe. In the United States it has been calculated that after 10 rounds of screening, 49% of healthy women will have experienced a false alarm.
  • If 2000 women are screened regularly for 10 years, only one of them will be saved from dying of breast cancer. The absolute reduction in breast cancer mortality was therefore only 0.05%.
  • Screening does not reduce the overall risk of dying, or the overall risk of dying from cancer (including breast cancer). It therefore seems that women who go to screening do not live longer than women who do not go to screening.
  • When women are invited to mammography screening, the practice often is that, when they receive a letter about screening, they are also given an appointment time for the examination. This procedure puts pressure on women to attend. Because of this, their participation becomes less voluntary. In some countries, they are even phoned at home and encouraged to attend, which is also potentially coercive.
  • Information on the Internet, e.g. on cancer charity web sites, often omits the most important harms. Or they are described as benefits. For example, screening is said to reduce the risk that a woman loses her breast. This is not true. Because of over-diagnosis and over-treatment, screening increases the risk of mastectomy.What

What have I done with the above information? I no longer accept those invitations for screening mammograms.

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© 2010-2016 Melinda Coker

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