Letters: Mammograms: not always a “no-brainer.”

Posted 11/4/21

I am writing in response to the Local's coverage on breast cancer, and the seemingly unqualified endorsement through the articles that getting a mammography is a "no-brainer."  As a holistic health care provider of more than 20 years, I respectfully disagree.

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Letters: Mammograms: not always a “no-brainer.”

Posted

I am writing in response to the Local's coverage on breast cancer, and the seemingly unqualified endorsement through the articles that getting a mammography is a "no-brainer."  As a holistic health care provider of more than 20 years, I respectfully disagree.

While some lives are saved through breast cancer mammograms, the current science shows that there is “more than one right answer” to the question: “Should I be screened for breast cancer?” One survey suggested that if women were fully informed at how small the benefit actually was, 70 percent wouldn’t do it. But, you may be in that 30 percent who would, and have a right to decide for yourself.

Currently, the four main groups in the U.S. “charged with making [mammogram] recommendations” in fact have contradictory guidelines. So, what’s a woman to do?

The Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society said that “we need to be true to the science.” But note that this was him talking about prostate  cancer screening. Within the American Cancer Society itself, there seems to be a double standard. "Women are encouraged” to get mammograms, “while men are advised to” weigh the pros and cons of prostate screenings, “although the fundamental issues to consider are [actually] very similar” between the two tests.

If we look at the current studies, “[i]n fact, the benefits and harms [may be] so evenly balanced that we should just inform women, and let them make up their own minds." But, that’s not what you hear from ad campaigns. Media coverage generally tells women to do it, overstating the benefits, sometimes ignoring harms altogether, the biggest harm being the false-positive, resulting in further testing--more x-rays, ultrasounds and biopsies, unnecessary financial costs and emotional stress.

There is also evidence now that the radiation used in mammograms creates its own harm.  The “risk of radiation-induced breast cancer” from modern, low-dose digital mammograms depends on how often you get screened, and at what age you start. “For a [group] of 100,000 women…screened annually from ages 40 to 55 years and [every other year until] age 74…, it is predicted that there will be 86 cancers induced and 11 deaths due to radiation-induced breast cancer.” Meaning they estimate that 11 of those women will die from breast cancer they would never have gotten if they had decided not to get mammograms, and not expose themselves to that radiation.

Women with large breasts may carry additional risk, because their mammograms may require additional views, and the greater radiation dose is expected to translate into “a greater risk for radiation-induced breast cancer and breast cancer death” - as much as triple the lifetime attributable risk of developing breast cancer because of the mammogram radiation exposure.

Patients have been taught through the media to think differently about mammograms. We're made to think: "What’s the harm? It’s a no-brainer." But, in reality the truth is more nuanced. There are benefits and harms to consider in screening - just as there are in treatment.

To review all the current science on the pros and cons of mammograms that informed this editorial, so you can decide for yourself if it's right for you, visit https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-pros-and-cons-of-mammograms.  At this same site, you can see 13 other unbiased, science-based videos that explore this topic.

Elise Rivers, Esq., M.Ac., Owner of Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy & Northwest Center for Food As Medicine

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