(Health Secrets) Almost any woman who has undergone the torturous compression and radiation of her breasts wonders instinctively about the damage mammograms really do. But the instincts of women have long been devalued, and most just assume they are being silly. After all, the medical establishment would never do anything to harm, right? All the propaganda about mammograms reducing the risk of death from breast cancer makes us continue to doubt what our common sense is telling us, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that radiation causes all types of cancer including that of the breast.
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have all classified X-rays as carcinogens based on the fact that they have been linked to leukemia and cancers of the breast, lung and thyroid. The more radiation a woman receives in her lifetime, whether it is during a dental exam, at an airport, or during her yearly mammogram, the more likely it is that she will develop breast cancer. In fact, the spiraling rates of breast cancer seen in the last 35 years may be directly tied to the increased use of mammography.
The harmful effects of radiation have been known for more than four decades
The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) began to encourage the use of mammography more than 40 years ago, at a time when its dangers were already well known. Mammography was linked with their financial objectives, and the advertising rhetoric at the time urged “a checkup and a check”.
In 1974, the NCI was warned by Professor Malcolm C. Pike at the University of Southern California School of Medicine that a number of specialists had concluded, “giving a women under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical”. This warning was ignored.
Also in the 1970’s, the Director of Biostatistics at Rosewell Park Memorial Institute for Cancer Research, Dr. Irwin Bross, headed a study involving data from 16 million people living in his area. This ground breaking study found that the main cause of the rising rates of leukemia was medical radiation in the form of diagnostic medical X-rays. Applying his findings to the breast cancer screening program, Dr. Bross elaborated, “women should have been given the information about the hazards of radiation at the same time they were given the sales talk for mammography.”
Dr. Bross’ research was followed by that of Dr. John Gofman, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, who in the early 1990’s found that three-quarters of the annual incidence of breast cancer in the United States was caused by ionizing radiation, primarily from medical sources. Dr. Bross did not underestimate the role played by pesticides, synthetic hormones, poor diets and other environmental stressors stating, “There is no inherent conflict or competition between carcinogens,” because they multiply each other’s carcinogenic effects. Although X-rays and radiotherapy are among the few environmental contaminants known unequivocally to cause many forms of cancer, they are routinely recommended and used with cancer patients although there is no proven benefit to survival.
In the early 1980’s and in the face of these findings, the NCI and ACS jointly urged annual breast X-rays for women under age 50. Doctors assumed there was good evidence supporting the recommendation and began insisting on mammograms for their patients.
In 1985, The Lancet, one of the five leading medical journals in the world, published an article condemning this mammography recommendation and stating, “Over 280,000 women were recruited without being told that no benefit of mammography had been shown in a controlled trial for women below 50, and without being warned about the potential risk of induction of breast cancer by the test which was supposed to detect it. In women below 50 . . . mammography gives no benefit.”
The media and many government health officials stayed silent regarding mounting evidence that mammograms cause cancer, and the ACS and the NCI continued to recommend mammograms for women under 50 until 1992, when Samuel Epstein, professor at the University of Illinois Medical Center, along with 64 other distinguished cancer authorities, opposed this status quo thinking and warned the public about what the ACS and NCI were up to.
The next month, The Washington Post broke the story into the mainstream media, exposing what the ACS and the NCI had done to countless women for the previous twenty years. In this article Dr. Epstein was quoted, “The high sensitivity of the breast, especially in young women, to radiation induced cancer was known by 1970. . . the establishment ignores safe and effective alternatives to mammography.” Dr. Epstein saw this as a conscious, chosen, politically expedient act by a group of people for the sake of their own power, prestige and financial gain, resulting in suffering and death for millions of women. He referred to mammograms as “crimes against humanity”.
In December, 1992, The New York Times published facts about mammography and concluded that women were not being told the truth.
In 1995, The Lancet again pointed the finger at the ACS and NCI mammography scam by concluding, “The benefit is marginal, the harm caused is substantial, and the costs incurred are enormous.”
Meanwhile, women’s health advocate Susan Weed began to publish her findings. In Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way, she reports, “Scientists agree that there is no safe dose of radiation. Cellular DNA in the breast is more easily damaged by very small doses of radiation than thyroid tissue or bone marrow; in fact, breast cells are second only to fetal tissues in sensitivity to radiation. As an added risk, one percent of American women carry a hard-to-detect oncogene that is triggered by radiation. A single mammogram increases their risk of breast cancer by a factor of 4-6 times.”
Sister Rosalie Bertell, a highly respected world authority on the dangers of radiation, says that one rad increases breast cancer risk by one percent and is the equivalent of one year’s natural aging. “If a woman has yearly mammograms from age 55 to 75, she will receive a minimum of 20 rads of radiation.” As a comparison, the atomic blast in Hiroshima produced 35 rads.
Dr. Charles B. Simone, a former clinical associate in immunology and pharmacology at the National Cancer Institute has said, “Mammograms increase the risk for developing breast cancer and raise the risk of spreading or metastasizing an existing growth. The annual mammographic screening of 10,000 women aged 50-70 will extend the lives of, at best, 26 of them; and the annual screening of 10,000 women in their 40s will extend the lives of only 12 women per year.”
Radiation is not the only danger posed by mammograms
Although widely used for early cancer-detection screening, remarkably little attention has been paid to the techniques of breast compression used in the mammography procedure, according to William Campbell Douglass, Jr. writing for the Weston A. Price Foundation. Although the principal of handling cancer very gently so as not to spread it is widely accepted by the medical profession, this principal has not been applied to breast screening. During mammography, the techniques used are designed for maximum detection of abnormalities without regard to the possible consequences of that action. Douglass notes a survey that found mammographers used as much compression as the patient could tolerate, and they had no idea how much compression they were using. In fact, the guidelines for mammography state, “adequacy of the compression device is crucial to good quality mammography.” That force is 300 newtons, the equivalent of placing a 50 pound weight on the breast.
One animal study found that the number of metastases increases by 80 percent if the tumor was manipulated. A human study reported in the British Medical Journal found that death rates were increased by 29 percent in women whose breasts were squeezed during mammography. This is likely to be the result of the rupture of small blood vessels in or around small undetected breast cancers. These ruptures are the probable cause of the malignant cells found in lymph modes examined during breast cancer surgery, and used to scare women into excepting radiation and chemotherapy.
Mistaken false positive diagnoses are common in pre-menopausal women and post-menopausal women on estrogen substitution drugs, because the breast tissue of these women is dense and glandular in nature. These mistakes result in needless anxiety, more mammograms, and highly dangerous biopsies that can cause cancer cells to metastasize, if indeed there is a cancer. According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, for the group of women with multiple high-risk factors such as a strong family history, prolonged use of contraceptives, and no breast feeding history, the cumulative risk of false positives increases to as high as 100 percent over a decade of screening, due to this being the group most strongly urged to participate in multiple screenings.
Over-diagnosis and subsequent over-treatment are major risks of mammography. The unchallenged use of screening has resulted in a huge increase in the diagnosis of ductal carcinoma-insitu (DCIS), a pre-invasive form of cancer which has about 40,000 diagnoses annually. DCIS is composed of micro-calcifications and treated by lumpectomy plus radiation or even mastectomy and chemotherapy. However, over 80 percent of DCIS’s do not become invasive if left untreated. The mortality rate from DCIS is the same for women diagnosed and treated early as it is for those diagnosed later, following development of invasive cancer. That mortality rate is about 1%, according to the Cancer Prevention Coalition.
A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that since mammographic screening was first introduced, the incidence of DCIS, which represents 12% of all breast cancer cases, has increased by 328% for all women, and 200% of this increase is due to the use of mammography. The increase in incidence for women under the age of 40 has gone up by over 3000%. Did incidence of such cancer’s magically increase by those whopping percentages just at the time mammography was introduced? Highly unlikely! These findings suggest that without any screening and intervention, many DCIS situations are positively resolved by the body’s own defenses.
Mammograms fail to reduce breast cancer mortality
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the mantra remains that routine mammography screenings allow early detection and treatment of breast cancer and reduced mortality. But in reality, the vast majority of breast cancers are unaffected by early detection, either because they are aggressive or because they are not. The aggressive cancers will continue to kill women, no matter how much surgery, radiation and chemotherapy they have, unless the source of the cancer is addressed. The cancers that are not aggressive suggest a well functioning immune system in a woman who is otherwise of fairly good health, features that would be compromised by traditional treatments.
Mammograms divert women’s attention from the real issues
The mammography industry has made women passive participants in their own health. If the result of the mammogram is positive, the women moves on to the next phase in the ‘standard of care’ that includes still more mammograms followed by biopsies. If a cancer is found, she undergoes surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and is prescribed a regimen of debilitating drugs to take for the rest of her life. She remains completely ignorant of what caused her to have cancer in the first place, and about what she can do to try to regain her health.
If the results are negative, she breathes a sigh of relief, schedules another mammogram for next year, and goes about her business as usual. Again, she is given no information with which to empower herself about how to avoid breast cancer.
In a world not run by a pharmaceutical industry-medical establishment partnership, the actions of the cancer industry would be abhorrent. In this kind of world, a woman would be allowed to discover breast irregularities on her own and come to a center where a physician would help her examine her physical situation, personal history and psychology, and lifestyle. A treatment protocol would be designed specifically for her based on her personal situation. This protocol would recognize that the breast irregularities are a wake up call, and would address how best to restore balance and health to all aspects of her body, mind and spirit.
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Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural. Chief Editor Health Secrets.