Is it time to scrap the mammogram?
A blockbuster Canadian study has added fuel to the already heated debate concerning the benefits of regular mammograms. According to the study, annual screening of women aged 40 to 59 did not lower breast cancer death rates despite current recommendations that this age group get mammograms every year.
The new research is convincing because of its scope and thoroughness. For 25 years, researchers followed nearly 90,000 women who were randomly assigned to either get mammograms or no screening. The conclusion: Women getting mammograms were just as likely to die from breast cancer as those who didn't get them.
What's more, experts warn that the radiation used in mammograms may actually cause cancer.
"I haven't been a fan of mammograms for years," Christine Horner, M.D., a nationally known surgeon, author, and expert on breast cancer who lives in San Diego, tells Newsmax Health. "I agree with all the reasons stated in the study. I think it is much better to use technology that doesn't use radiation such as thermography, ultrasounds, and physical exams to detect breast cancer."
Erika Schwartz, M.D., a leading advocate of disease prevention and wellness for women, says she hasn't had a mammogram in 15 years.
"Women are over-radiated, over-biopsied, and brainwashed by fear mongers who use scare tactics to force them into screening procedures that may have terrible side effects," she says.
"There have been many other studies questioning the benefits of annual mammograms, so I'm not surprised that this large study validated the belief that a healthy lifestyle — not mammograms — is the best way to beat breast cancer."
In addition to finding that mammograms don't prevent breast cancer deaths, the study concluded that the scans can actually harm women by subjecting them to unnecessary treatment. The research showed that 22 percent of women whose cancers were detected by mammograms endured unneeded treatment for slow-growing cancers that were no threat to their health.
Dr. Schwartz, author of Dr. Erika's Healthy Balance
newsletter, says that self-examinations are the best way for women to check for signs of breast cancer.
"We must assume responsibility for our every-day care," she said. "Women should learn to know and love their breasts and perform self-examination on a regular basis. They should follow an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, and take bio-identical hormones to reduce the risk of cancer."
If a woman does find a suspicious lump in her breast, Dr. Schwartz would then suggest testing for cancer, preferably in the form of an ultrasound, which has less radiation.
Several other large studies have also questioned the value of screening mammograms, including a review by the U.S. Preventative Task Force in 2009 and a study on the causes of death in the U.K. in 2013.
Not all experts agree, however, that mammograms are not useful. Marissa Weiss, M.D., founder and president of breastcancer.org, the largest online resource for information on breast health, tells Newsmax Health that despite the new findings, she continues to urge mammograms.
"It's one of the tools we have to save lives along with other therapies such as genetic testing to determine a woman's risk for getting cancer or for evaluating what form of treatment is best in her particular case," she says. "I'm still advocating yearly screening for women over 40."
Approximately 200,000 women and a few men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. annually. It kills 40,000 a year, according to the American Cancer Society.
"At the end of the day, it should be an individual decision on how to take care of one's health," says Dr. Schwartz. "We have been flooded with information about all the so-called benefits of mammograms, but the risks have been downplayed. Now that is changing. It's always a question of balance."
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