In December 2001, I sent you an e-Alert about mammography. I imagined one woman reading it, taking it to heart and passing it along to two friends. And I hoped those friends would pass it along to two more, and so on, until women everywhere were talking about mammography and questioning its need.
2001 was a big year for mammography. That was the year Medicare began covering mammography, ensuring that millions of women would be getting yearly mammograms over the following decade.
Coincidentally, 2001 was also the year we first received conclusive research showing that mammography has significant drawbacks.
Here’s how the researchers put it: “The currently available reliable evidence has not shown a survival benefit of mass screening for breast cancer.”
So…10 years on…where are we today?
Pay It Forward
In yesterday’s e-Alert I mentioned mammography’s compression problem. But for we women who have subjected ourselves to this procedure, breast compression is just the most obvious drawback.
But it’s not the most painful…
The 2001 research came from the Cochrane Collaboration, the excellent research institution that does just one thing: they study existing health research. They’re non-profit and they have no agenda, except to diligently crunch data and report the findings, letting the chips fall where they may.
As you can imagine, their 2001 conclusion was not greeted with open arms by the mainstream medical community. So they re-examined their data and subjected it to even more rigorous analysis.
As the CC authors stated in a research letter in The Lancet, the second analysis just “confirmed and strengthened” their previous findings.
They still found no overall survival benefit from mammograms. In fact, they found that mammograms are actually harmful because women who are screened are much more likely to undergo a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or radiation treatment. But these highly invasive procedures have not produced a higher rate of breast cancer survival.
Recently, one of the original authors of that 2001 study looked back on the decade since he and his colleagues shocked the international medical community.
Writing on the Cochrane website (cochrane.org), Peter GÃ¸tzsche (Director of the Nordic Cochrane center) had this to say about the high rate of mastectomies…
“Our finding of increased mastectomies has consistently been ignored by screening advocates for 10 years, and information from many cancer charities and governmental agencies continues to state the opposite — that screening decreases mastectomies — despite having no reliable data to support this claim.”
By the Cochrane team’s estimates, in countries with aggressive screening programs (such as the U.S., obviously) the level of overdiagnosis is about 50 percent. And the most recent studies have not found any decrease in the occurrence of advanced cancers.
GÃ¸tzsche and his colleagues also found that many breast cancers detected by mammograms would have regressed spontaneously if they had simply gone untreated.
Going forward, GÃ¸tzsche knows what has to be done: “It is now essential that women be provided with information that allows them to make an informed choice about mammographic screening, rather than being pushed toward mammography as routine, while being told it is an unambiguously beneficial test.”
GÃ¸tzsche is optimistic. He says the “tides are plainly turning,” with former mammogram advocates now seeing the light. That may be happening in Europe, but I’m not really seeing it here in the U.S. where the mainstream medical community seems more entrenched than ever in support of mammography and a wide range of other questionable radiological screening techniques.
Which brings us back to you. If you will share this with a friend or two, and hopefully they friend will do the same, then I feel optimistic too that eventually women everywhere will know the truth about mammograms. And so on and so on and so on…
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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