Dr. Russell Blaylock, author of The Blaylock Wellness Report newsletter, is a nationally recognized board-certified neurosurgeon, health practitioner, author, and lecturer. He attended the Louisiana State University School of Medicine and completed his internship and neurological residency at the Medical University of South Carolina. For 26 years, practiced neurosurgery in addition to having a nutritional practice. He recently retired from his neurosurgical duties to devote his full attention to nutritional research. Dr. Blaylock has authored four books, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life, Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients, and his most recent work, Cellular and Molecular Biology of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Find out what others are saying about Dr. Blaylock by clicking here.
Tags: Breast | Cancer | Mammogram | Screening | BRCA

What is the Truth About Mammogram Screenings?

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Monday, 14 Dec 2009 04:34 PM Current | Bio | Archive


When the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force announced that women no longer needed to have mammograms before age 50, and then only every two years, a firestorm was unleashed from women’s groups promoting regular mammogram screening, the American Cancer Society and certain physician groups.
And, as expected, Sean Hannity tried to make political hay out of the Democratic left trying to deny life-saving healthcare to women as part of the healthcare bill. They are, but this particular decision is not a bad one.
In fact, research showing that mammogram screening is far less effective in preventing breast cancer deaths has been published in a number of high-quality journals going back at least a decade. This is especially true with cancers associated with a strong family history of breast cancer (those having the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutation).
For example, in one study comparing the ability of mammogram versus MRI scans in detecting invasive breast cancers (the most dangerous type) found that the cancers were detected in only 33 percent of mammograms and 80 percent of MRI scans.
It is known that when a woman gets more mammograms in subsequent years the detection rates improves — that is, with each scan more cancers are discovered. You might think that this indicates more accurate reading of the scans over time, but new evidence indicates that the radiation from the mammogram itself may be inducing the cancer in a number of women, especially those with a genetic risk factor called the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. We know that radiation injury to the genes within breast tissue is accumulative — that is, it adds up with each scan.
Earlier studies indicated that the radiation exposure from each mammogram increased a woman’s risk 1 percent to 3 percent per year, so that over 10 years, her risk of getting a mammogram-caused breast cancer would be 10 percent to 30 percent. In one Norwegian study, it was found that when routine breast mammograms began, the breast cancer rate started to climb. Other studies have also suggested this link with regular mammograms.
A new study, from the Department of Epidemiology and Radiology in the Netherlands, looked at the possibility that the mammogram radiation exposure, in women having the gene mutation for breast cancer risk, might cause an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
What they found was that in women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation, those who started mammograms at age 20, as recommended by the American Cancer Society—a charity organization—faced a 250 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer after five such scans.
It is known that mammograms are better at detecting ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which in more than 50 percent of cases will never grow into a true cancer, invade or ever kill the person, and that mammograms are poorer at detecting invasive breast cancers, especially those linked to family risk. It has also been noted that the incidence of DCIS being diagnosed has increased 500 percent over the past decade, making up more than 25 percent of the diagnosed “cancers” found by mammograms.

How Do Mammogram’s Cause Breast Cancer?

It has been known for more than 60 years that radiation exposure increases the risk of women developing breast cancer. Frequent chest X-rays and treating scoliosis of the spine in young girls greatly increased their risk of developing breast cancer a decade later. Breast tissue is a very radiosensitive tissue.
Radiation causes cancer by damaging the chromosomes within the cells of the milk ducts of the breast. With each dose of radiation, even low-dose, a certain amount of damage is done to the genes. Special repair enzymes within these cells repair most of the damage, but some goes unrepaired and with subsequent doses of mammogram radiation more damage accumulates. In 10 years of getting a mammogram each year causes a considerable amount of damage to the genes.
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes play a role in repairing genetic damage and when mutated, as in women who have a hereditary risk, a great deal more of the chromosomal damage goes unrepaired. Consequently, they are more likely to develop breast cancer after exposure to a number of carcinogens — such as, pesticides, herbicides, low nutrients, inflammatory disease of the breast, and radiation exposure to the breast.
This new study from the Netherlands confirms what many have suspected — that regular mammograms are causing a number of the worst of the breast cancers discovered by the very mammograms that caused them. It is also important to understand that radiation can also act as a cocarcinogen — that is, it greatly enhances the ability of even low-level environmental and dietary carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) to induce breast cancer.
The radiation also would be expected to make the induced cancer much more aggressive, invasive and more likely to kill than spontaneously developing breast cancers. It is known that the risk of lymph node invasion, a sign of a poorer prognosis, is much greater when severe chromosomal damage is present. The greater the damage to the genetic material of the breast tissue, the more deadly is the cancer. Radiation greatly increases chromosomal damage. Keep in mind that radiation damage to cells from mammograms accumulates each year.

What About Women Without a Family History of Breast Cancer?

While the risk to women with these gene mutations is of great concern, they exist in only 15 percent to 20 percent of breast cancer cases. What about the other 80 percent to 85 percent of women — are they at risk from their mammograms? The evidence suggests they would be.
As stated above, a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) has increased in incidence an astounding 500 percent since 1983. In most women this cancer (pathologists suggest that it should not be labeled a cancer in most cases) is relatively benign and in more than 50 percent of cases will never develop into a real cancer that can kill. Every year 21,000 women diagnosed with this lesion are subjected to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy — even though in most cases it is benign.
A recent study examined the chromosomal abnormalities in DCIS lesions and found that they varied according to risk of becoming a cancer — some are low grade and of no risk, some are very high grade and can become invasive cancers over many years and some are in between. In general, even the malignant ones are relatively slow growing and rarely metastasize early. Most are diagnosed after age 50, again confirming the safety of delaying mammograms.
Since the risk from DCIS is dependent on the amount of chromosome damage, one must ask the question — are mammograms increasing the amount of damage to the chromosomes, thus turning more benign DCIS lesion into invading, potentially deadly cancers?
When they analyzed the chromosome abnormalities in these DCIS lesions they found that the risk of metastasis depended on the severity of the chromosomal damage and this was also true of invasive cancers of the breast — meaning that for most DCIS lesion and even invasive cancers, they would not spread to the lymph nodes until quite late. This once again, as we saw with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, links mammograms with causing a significant number of breast cancers in unsuspecting women.
Even in women with spontaneously developing breast cancer, this research indicates that the damage caused by mammogram radiation might make the cancer much more aggressive, invasive, and deadly.
Some 28 million women subject themselves to mammograms each year and some even more often. If the test declared to be saving women from death by breast cancer is instead killing women, we would see a scandal similar to that of the era of the radical mastectomy forced on millions of unsuspecting women. It took almost 30 years to destroy that myth, yet those who carried the torch of truth were attacked, just as today, as endangering the lives of women.

What Are The Alternative to Mammograms?

Basically there are three alternatives to mammograms — thermograms, ultrasound and MRI scans of the breast — none of which induce breast cancer or make it more deadly. The medical profession refuses to test the thermogram for efficiency in detecting breast cancers. A recent study found that ultrasound was just as effective in detecting breast cancers as mammograms, and MRI were far superior to mammograms in detecting breast cancers.
In one of the largest studies done, researchers found that the difference in cancer detection was greatest with the first scan, with mammograms detecting cancers only 20 percent of the tumors and MRI scans an incredible 93.3 percent of the tumors.
Incredibly, the accuracy of the MRI scan increased each year — that is, the MRI scan was better at differentiating between benign breast lesions and true cancers. An additional advantage of the MRI is that it can give a clear picture of even dense breast, as one sees in younger women. This is especially valuable in women with a family history of breast cancer.
Defenders of mammograms admit the picture is clearer for the MRI scan, but counter that it has a higher incidence of false positives — that is, of seeing things that look like breast cancer that are benign. Yet, the incidence of false positives in 5 percent with mammograms and 10 percent with MRI scan. Importantly, with subsequent MRI scans one sees a dramatic drop in false positives. Actually, false positives are much higher with mammograms—around 90 percent.
Another advantage is that with MRI scans of the breast, one does not have to crush the breast as with mammograms. More is involved than pain, since if a woman goes for her mammogram and has an existing cancer, compressing the breast has been shown to dramatically increase the spread of the cancer into the lymphatics and blood stream—making the cancer more deadly.
Mammogram suites have sprung up all over the country — both free standing and in hospitals, and they generate billions of dollars each year. Some of these mammograms mega-clinics scan hundreds of thousands of women a year. A lot of money is at stake and resistance to stopping mammograms will be intense — yet, women’s lives are at risk. It would be different if there were no alternatives — but there are and they are safer and involve no pain.

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Dr-Blaylock
When the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force announced that women no longer needed to have mammograms before age 50, and then only every two years, a firestorm was unleashed from women’s groups promoting regular mammogram screening, the American Cancer Society and certain physician groups. However
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