How Safe is Cancer Screening?
Following an earlier article “Some Cancer Cures May do More Harm Than Good” we were asked for our views on screening for breast cancer (Mammogram). If you think this would be easy then think again. There is a massive amount of information, loads of official studies, reviews by the NHS in UK and FDA in US, articles in Medical Journals – but we are struggling to find a definitive answer. We could bore you with pages and pages of conflicting “expert” opinion. Or we can quickly “cut to the chase” and give you a brief overview of the situation as we see it.
On the Left – in favour of screening
• World Health Organisation (WHO)
• National Health Service (NHS – UK only)
• Food and Drug Administration (FDA – USA only)
• Plus many other highly respected establishments around the world.
The following is an extract from the NHS website: –
The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reported that screening could cut deaths from breast cancer by about 35% among women who are regularly screened. The 2010 NHS breast screening programme annual review estimates that UK breast screening saves 1,400 lives each year. For every 400 women screened over a 10 year period, one less woman dies from breast cancer than if they had not been screened. This means that 1 in 8 fewer women between 50 to 70 years of age die from breast cancer in the UK.
We thought we were fairly good at mathematics but have to admit that these figures baffled us. When we asked for clarification the response was “woolly” to say the least. This is what we think they mean:
- If you consider 400 women aged 50 to 70 in UK, with NO screening, then over a 10 year period 8 of them will die from breast cancer.
- However, if those same women were screened on a regular basis the early detection of breast cancer would mean that only 7 of the 400 would die from breast cancer. 1 life would be saved over the 10 year period.
- The figures then fall apart when you look at the claimed 1400 lives saved a year. This implies that over 5.5 million women take part in the screening programme yet other figures give the figure at fewer than 2 million.
- We cannot find any information to back up the WHO claim of 35%.
Official figures from the USA are just as confusing. A 2009 study concluded that mammograms do save lives and at a rate that increased with age – in line with overall breast cancer risk. This USA data shows: –
- A woman between the ages 55 and 70 has a 6% chance of developing breast cancer.
- There is approximately 1% chance of breast cancer causing her death.
- Regular screening from age 50 onwards would save the life of 1.8 women for every 1000 screened consistently for 15 years.
- One researcher estimates that 2,970 women must be screened once to save one life.
When you look behind the headline figures from these organisations the reductions in death seem quite small – unless, of course, you are the one who has been saved! Although small, they are significant and we can understand why so many people are in favour of mass screening.
Until, you look at the other figures that aren’t published quite so often: –
On the Right – those against screening
• A growing number of research establishments.
• Several medical consultant authorities.
• Most Therapists
• Try a “google” search – mammogram risks – you will be spoilt for choice
We have studied lots of these reports/claims/websites and the risks associated with mammograms can be narrowed down into 3 main categories: –
- The damage caused by the actual mammogram itself.
- The risk of “false positives” – diagnosis where the mammogram indicated a cancer tumour in error.
- The risk of anxiety, stress and depression for women called for follow up treatment that proves to be unnecessary.
1) Mammogram risks
A mammogram is a special form of X-ray – some experts calculate that it is equivalent to 6 conventional x-rays. However, in the UK the mammogram procedure actually takes 2 shots of each breast (one from above and one from the side) so a screening is equivalent to 12 x-rays. This is not a concern until you understand that breast tissue is susceptible to damage from x-rays. There are lots of claims and counter claims but the general consensus is: –
- a) The younger you are the more damage could be caused. This is why mammogram screening is restricted to over 50 years (but plans are afoot to introduce it for younger women in UK).
- b) A family history of breast cancer can mean that certain gene mutations can be present but hidden. The mammogram procedure can actually trigger these mutations to become active cancer growths. Women with these “silent mutations” should stay well away from mammograms – yet they are often the very same women who are encouraged to have regular screening. This is the ultimate “Catch-22” scenario.
- c) Mammography also compresses the breasts tightly (and often painfully), which could lead to a lethal spread of cancerous cells should they be present.
- d) This comment from a female oncology nurse is possibly only half joking – “mammograms were clearly invented by men. Ask any man if he would expose his private parts, squeeze them between two cold metal plates and subject them to ionizing radiation once a year on the vague chance it might show he had cancer and he’d say I was mad. At best!”
2) False Positives
The mammogram detects abnormalities in the breast tissue. Experts study the data and assess the likelihood of these abnormalities being cancerous. For obvious reasons they err on the side of caution. Further tests can then be carried out to reject obvious non-cancerous cases. This reduces the actual cancer cases to approximately 10 women in 2000 who are then treated for breast cancer (mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation or whatever). In September 2006 an earlier report from the Nordic Cochrane Centre found that for every 2,000 women invited to have screening mammograms, just one would have their life prolonged, but 10 would endure unnecessary and potentially devastating treatment! Professor Peter Gozsche, who led the research along with Karsten Jorgensen, said that “many women were being treated for slow-growing cancers that might never have developed to cause concern if they had not been picked up in the screening.”
The Cochrane Study concluded that the reduction in risk of dying from breast cancer for women in a screening programme was 0.05% (1 in 2000). But the risk of dying for a woman being screened and then actually treated unnecessarily for a slow growing or benign cancer rose to a staggering 30%. This indicated that for every 2000 women screened, 1 would have their life prolonged, 10 would receive unnecessary treatment and 3 of those 10 would die prematurely as a result of that treatment!
The Cochrane Studies and Reports have not been denied by WHO, NHS or FDA – they have just been ignored.
3) Additional Stress
Cochrane also compiled data from numerous studies around the world. They also found that for every 2,000 women screened no less than 200 would be called back for further tests and investigation. These women have weeks or months of unnecessary worry purely because of the high number of false positive results. These are finding problems that aren’t really problems that unwittingly create a tremendous amount of stress and fear.
What Do We Recommend?
Unfortunately the situation is not clear cut. There are, however, several important results of the research that may just help you make a decision one way or the other: –
• Women under 50 should not have mammograms. There is widespread agreement on this.
• Women with a family history of breast cancer are at a much higher risk of being damaged by the mammogram process.
• Women who have given birth and successfully breast fed their children have a much lower risk of developing breast cancer in the first place. Mammograms are probably not a good idea.
• The damage from mammograms is cumulative – the risk increases the more often the mammogram. A screening programme involving a test once every 3 years should be preferred to an annual test.
• Screening beyond the age of 70 is not considered effective.
• If you do opt for screening and get called back for further tests then insist on a full investigation before agreeing to surgery.
What Else Can You Do?
Despite the massive screening programmes the majority of breast cancer occurrences are first spotted by feeling a small lump in the breast. In our opinion this remains the best method and self examination should be encouraged amongst all women, regardless of age.
The next thing is to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the first place. There are lots of dietary methods of strengthening your resistance to all cancers – not merely breast cancer. One of the most promising is the combination of Ethos Marine Phytoplankton and Ethos Endymion. Full details of how to order are HERE – but make sure you get the combination pack.
Ethos Combination Pack – Click Here
Ethos Home Cancer Test Kit – Click Here
Cochrane Library – thecochranelibrary.com
Why most Doctors would rather DIE than endure the pain that they inflict on others with terminal illnesses – Click Here
Author: Peter Aldred