Mammograms: New 25-Year Study Questions Them

Natural Blaze
by Catherine J. Frompovich

For as long as I can remember women have been steered to yearly mammograms as screening tools for early detection of breast cancer. However, what most women don’t know is that if a lump or tumor shows up on a mammogram, it’s been there for quite a while. Mammograms cannot detect breast lumps until they are about the size of an eraser on the end of a pencil. That’s big already! Furthermore, “For women under 50 with dense breasts, mammograms may miss a small percentage of in situ breast cancers.” [8]

In the Resources section at the end of this blog I list the link to “The Secret History of Mammography,” which I think everyone interested in breast cancer issues ought to read.

Historically, mammograms did not have a very good track record. Why? Well, in the early years of mammography machines were not calibrated correctly, which caused excess radiation exposure, plus an increased risk of inducing breast cancers. Mammography actually lacked “quality control,” so …

…in 1992, hearings held by the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources found numerous quality issues in the field of mammography. [1]

Those hearings led to the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) on October 7, 1992, which became effective October 1, 1994, rather late in the field of mammography, I’d say.

The U.S. FDA was tasked with setting mammography quality standards. Interestingly, in the first year of the FDA’s oversight, 26 percent of mammography facilities had significant violations, which apparently jeopardized women’s breast health, in my opinion. Many facilities had to close as a result of MQSA and the FDA standards.

Wasn’t it rather outrageous that breast mammography procedures were promoted by physicians and technicians without proper safety measures in place and accurately calibrated X-ray equipment? But then many things can happen in medicine and pharmacology that actually may not be safely monitored. Currently, mammography facilities are accredited by the American College of Radiology, while three states (Arkansas, Iowa, and Texas) have state-level alternative accreditations.

In 2003 a Harvard Law School course work requirement paper was published on the Internet [2] that “…acknowledge[s] many of the current problems with mammography reflect deeply rooted historical problems with the delivery of health care and the regulation of medicine.” Also, “It acknowledges that the technological limitations of mammography techniques may be contributing to the physician interpretation problem.” [3] [CJF emphasis added]

Recognizing and trying to address some of the problems still plaguing mammography, Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT-3) introduced H.R.3404, the Breast Density and Mammography Reporting Act of 2013 on October 30, 2013 that

…amends the Public Health Service Act to require mammography facilities to include information regarding the patient’s individual measure of breast density in both the written report of the results of a mammography examination provided to the patient’s physician and the summary of that written report given to patients. Requires the summary to: (1) convey the patient’s risk of developing breast cancer associated with below, above, and average levels of breast density; and (2) include language communicating that individuals with more dense breasts may benefit from supplemental screening tests and should talk with their physicians about any questions or concerns regarding the summary.

Breast density apparently is problematic for mammography [8] and patients alike, since it determines exposure for readings. Here’s why, according to IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency:

To ensure the necessary image quality with the lowest possible dose, mammography should be performed by highly qualified radiographers with the ability to evaluate each patient’s breast and then select the optimum kV [tube voltage] and other exposure parameters. [4]

Furthermore, in the paper “Danger and Unreliability of Mammography,” published in the International Journal of Health Services [31(3):605-615, 2001], the authors say,

Mammography screening is a profit-driven technology posing risks compounded by unreliability. In striking contrast, annual clinical breast examination (CBE) by a trained health professional, together with monthly breast self-examination (BSE), is safe, at least as effective, and low in cost. International programs for training nurses how to perform CBE and teach BSE are critical and overdue. [5]

In the above paper, the authors discuss the dangers of mammography screening, which include:

Radiation and Cancer Risks from Breast Compression, something women are not aware of but should know.

As early as 1928, physicians were warned to handle “cancerous breasts with care- for fear of accidentally disseminating cells” and spreading cancer (7). Nevertheless, mammography entails tight and often painful compression of the breast, particularly in premenopausal women. This may lead to distant and lethal spread of malignant cells by rupturing small blood vessels in or around small, as yet undetected breast cancers (8). [CJF emphasis added]

During mammograms, breasts are squeezed between plates to make them flat with a pressure that some say is as much as 50 pounds or more. That pressure can cause a rupture, as pointed out above.

Knowing the above background information, let’s consider what a 25-year study published in theBritish Medical Journal in early 2014 [6] revealed about mammography. But first, allow me to share with readers that in my 2012 book, A Cancer Answer, Holistic BREAST Cancer Management, A Guide to Effective & Non-Toxic Treatments, I devote two entire chapters to discussing mammograms in great detail.

The BMJ study evaluated Canadian women ages 40 to 59 who: 1) had regular mammograms and breast exams by trained nurses, and 2) those who had breast exams alone. Surprisingly, the death rate from breast cancer was about the same in both groups. However, one in 424 women who had mammograms received unnecessary medical treatments, which included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Needless to say, the Canadian breast cancer study has become a polarizing event in the divide between those in medicine who believe mammograms save lives and researchers who claim there is no evidence to that effect and only leaves the issue muddled. Furthermore, in light of the Canadian study, the American Cancer Society says it is rethinking its position on mammography and will be issuing revised guidelines sometime later in 2014.
The BMJ study authors concluded that

…our data show that annual mammography does not result in a reduction in breast cancer specific mortality for women aged 40-59 beyond that of physical examination alone or usual care in the community. The data suggest that the value of mammography screening should be reassessed. [7]

Readers ought to know that men also can contract breast cancer, which I discuss in another chapter in A Cancer Answer [available on], and undergo the same diagnostic procedures and treatments as women, which may include mastectomy. I once had a male client who had a double mastectomy.

What conventional oncology overlooks and categorically does not utilize to diagnose breast cancer earlier than a mammogram can, is FDA-approved (1982) thermography, a non-invasive, radiation-free, infra-red photographic technique that photographs body heat, since cancer tissue gives off more heat than non-cancerous tissues. To help women make better informed choices about breast health issues, I devoted an extensive chapter in A Cancer Answer to thermography. Included in that chapter is an exceptional essay written by a Board Certified Thermologist medical doctor, who’s been a medical thermographer since 1982.

Breast cancer can be found much earlier than before a lump or tumor becomes the size of a pencil eraser. Wouldn’t you consider that very early breast cancer detection? However, thermography for breast cancer detection is not covered by healthcare insurance plans, which is due to the politics of healthcare and apparent effective lobbying tactics employed by mammography equipment makers directed at the FDA and Congress. Apparently, money talks.
Even the American Cancer Society claims, “Mammography today is a lucrative, highly competitive business.”

Personally, if I were a young woman reading this article, I’d realize the importance of getting a baseline thermogram now of both breasts so I could ‘see’ what’s currently going on inside my breasts.

Additionally, I’d consider a thermogram a worthwhile investment in my health and future. It doesn’t hurt; it doesn’t place ionizing radiation into breasts that also can affect surrounding body tissue.

For the ultimate personal gift, consider surprising her with what could become a “gift for life,” a thermogram. As I say in A Cancer Answer, women ought to think of thermograms as posing for a center-spread photograph that really could save their lives.

[3] Ibid.
[7] Ibid. pg. 5

Study: Radiation Therapy Can Make Cancers 30x More Malignant

GreenMed Info

Following on the heels of recent revelations that x-ray mammography may be contributing to an epidemic of future radiation-induced breast cancers, in a new article titled, “Radiation Treatment Generates Therapy Resistant Cancer Stem Cells From Aggressive Breast Cancer Cells,” published in the journal Cancer July 1st, 2012, researchers from the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center report that radiation treatment actually drives breast cancer cells into greater malignancy.

The researchers found that even when radiation kills half of the tumor cells treated, the surviving cells which are resistant to treatment, known as induced breast cancer stem cells (iBCSCs), were up to 30 times more likely to form tumors than the nonirradiated breast cancer cells. In other words, the radiation treatment regresses the total population of cancer cells, generating the false appearance that the treatment is working, but actually increases the ratio of highly malignant to benign cells within that tumor, eventually leading to the iatrogenic (treatment-induced) death of the patient.

Last month, a related study published in the journal Stem Cells titled, “Radiation-induced reprogramming of breast cells,” found that ionizing radiation reprogrammed less malignant (more differentiated) breast cancer cells into iBCSCs, helping to explain why conventional treatment actually enriches the tumor population with higher levels of treatment-resistant cells.

A growing body of research now indicts conventional cancer treatment with chemotherapy and radiation as a major contributing cause of cancer patient mortality. The primary reason for this is the fact that cancer stem cells, which are almost exclusively resistant to conventional treatment, are not being targeted, but to the contrary, are encouraged to thrive when exposed to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

In order to understand how conventional treatment drives the cancer into greater malignancy, we must first understand what cancer is….

What Are Cancer Stem Cells, And Why Are They Resistant To Treatment?

Tumors are actually highly organized assemblages of cells, which are surprisingly well-coordinated for cells that are supposed to be the result of strictly random mutation. They are capable of building their own blood supply (angiogenesis), are able to defend themselves by silencing cancer-suppression genes, secreting corrosive enzymes to move freely throughout the body, alter their metabolism to live in low oxygen and acidic environments, and know how to remove their own surface-receptor proteins to escape detection by white blood cells. In a previous article titled “Is Cancer An Ancient Survival Program Unmasked?” we delved deeper into this emerging view of cancer as an evolutionary throw-back and not a byproduct of strictly random mutation.

Because tumors are not simply the result of one or more mutated cells “going rogue” and producing exact clones of itself (multi-mutational and clonal hypotheses), but are a diverse group of cells having radically different phenotypal characteristics, chemotherapy and radiation will affect each cell type differently.

Tumors are composed of a wide range of cells, many of which are entirely benign.

The most deadly cell type within a tumor or blood cancer, known as cancer stem cells (CSCs), has the ability to give rise to all the cell types found within that cancer.

They are capable of dividing by mitosis to form either two stem cells (increasing the size of the stem population), or one daughter cell that goes on to differentiate into a variety of cell types, and one daughter cell that retains stem-cell properties.

This means CSCs are tumorigenic (tumor-forming) and should be the primary target of cancer treatment because they are capable of both initiating and sustaining cancer. They are also increasingly recognized to be the cause of relapse and metastasis following conventional treatment.

CSCs are exceptionally resistant to conventional treatment for the following reasons:

 CSCs account for less than 1 in 10,000 cells within a particular cancer, making them difficult to destroy without destroying the vast majority of other cells comprising the tumor.

CSCs are slow to replicate, making them less likely to be destroyed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments that target cells which are more rapidly dividing.
Conventional chemotherapies target differentiated and differentiating cells, which form the bulk of the tumor, but these are unable to generate new cells like the CSCs which are undifferentiated.

The existence of CSCs explains why conventional cancer treatment has completely missed the boat when it comes to targeting the root cause of tumors. One reason for this is because existing cancer treatments have mostly been developed in animal models where the goal is to shrink a tumor. Because mice are most often used and their life spans do not exceed two years, tumor relapse is very difficult, if not impossible to study.

The first round of chemotherapy never kills the entire tumor, but only a percentage. This phenomenon is called the fractional kill. The goal is to use repeated treatment cycles (usually six) to regress the tumor population down to zero, without killing the patient.

What normally occurs is that the treatment selectively kills the less harmful populations of cells (daughter cells), increasing the ratio of CSCs to benign and/or less malignant cells. This is not unlike what happens when antibiotics are used to treat certain infections. The drug may wipe out 99.9% of the target bacteria, but .1% have or develop resistance to the agent, enabling the .1% to come back even stronger with time.

 The antibiotic, also, kills the other beneficial bacteria that help the body fight infection naturally, in the same way that chemotherapy kills the patient’s immune system (white blood cells and bone marrow), ultimately supporting the underlying conditions making disease recurrence more likely.

The reality is that the chemotherapy, even though it has reduced the tumor volume, by increasing the ratio of CSCs to benign daughter cells, has actually made the cancer more malignant.

Radiotherapy has also been shown to increase cancer stem cells in the prostate, ultimately resulting in cancer recurrence and worsened prognosis. Cancer stem cells may also explain why castration therapy often fails in prostate cancer treatment.

Non-Toxic Natural Substances Which Target and Kill CSCs

Natural compounds have been shown to exhibit three properties which make them suitable alternatives to conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy:

High margin of safety: Relative to chemotherapy agents such as 5-fluorouracil natural compounds are two orders of magnitude safer

Selective Cytotoxicity: The ability to target only those cells that are cancerous and not healthy cells

CSCs Targeting: The ability to target the cancer stem cells within a tumor population.

The primary reason why these substances are not used in conventional treatment is because they are not patentable, nor profitable. Sadly, the criteria for drug selection are not safety, effectiveness, accessibility and affordability. If this were so, natural compounds would form an integral part of the standard of care in modern cancer treatment.

Research indicates that the following compounds (along with common dietary sources) have the ability to target CSCs:

Curcumin (Turmeric)
Resveratrol (Red Wine; Japanese Knotweed)
Quercetin (Onion)
Sulforaphane (Brocolli sprouts
Parthenolide (Butterbur)
Andrographalide (Andrographis)
Genistein (Cultured Soy; Coffee)
Piperine (Black Pepper)

Additional research found on the Multidrug Resistance page indicate over 50 compounds inhibit multidrug resistance cancers in experimental models.

Medical screening has over-promised and under-delivered

Evidence Network
by Alan Cassels

Medical screening over-promises and under-delivers—dragging people with no health problems into the medical system.

What could possibly be wrong with having a mammogram? Or a PSA test for prostate cancer? Even a full body CT scan? Finding the signs of illness before it strikes you down is always the best course of action — isn’t it?

You might have similar thoughts when offered a routine screening test, ultimately believing that screening for illness before it happens can only do good. So, you may be in for a shock, as I was, when I discovered how often medical screening has overpromised and under-delivered. And how frequently the “screen early, screen often” paradigm — including even simple blood tests to check for high cholesterol — can rapidly turn perfectly healthy people into patients.

Unnecessary care can be bad for your health: Prostate and breast cancer screening

Some medical screening, such as early testing for colon or cervical cancer, has a long lineage of strong evidence that it can save lives. Others, not so much.

The poster child for inappropriate and harmful screening is probably the full body CT scan, which is routinely promoted with a ‘better safe than sorry’ message that is compelling, but neither supported by independent experts or good science.

Here’s what not advertised: a full-body scan is pretty much guaranteed to find some kind of abnormality that likely won’t hurt you.

In a study published in Radiology, 86 percent of patients of 1,000 symptom-free people who underwent full body CT scans had an abnormality detected. The average person had 2.8 abnormalities revealed by the CT scan — items which appeared unusual, but either disappeared on their own or were so slow-growing that they never went on to threaten the individual.

Even for screening programs that are well-studied, such as those for breast or prostate cancers, the chances of being saved by the test are often outweighed by the possibility that the individual will be hurt by the testing or possible treatments which follow.

Yet, since most of us know someone whose life has been ‘saved’ by a test, we submit.

The PSA test, which screens a man’s blood looking for risks of prostate cancer, might seem like a no brainer for many men, especially those who have lost brothers or a father to the disease. But what most of us aren’t going to hear is that when an individual has a high PSA score (which could be caused by many things), the doctor can’t tell if the patient has the slow growing-type of prostate cancer that the majority of men eventually get (and won’t die from), or the fast-growing type that can be quickly lethal.

Here’s the data, taken from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine: to save a single man dying from prostate cancer, 1,410 men need to be screened, and of those, 48 will undergo treatment (with chemotherapy, surgery or drugs). About 30 of the treated men will end up impotent or incontinent (a possible consequence of the treatment).

Screening can be a terribly difficult and emotional decision because many of us don’t think in terms of numbers like these. Medical screening falls under the spell of the “popularity paradox” where despite high levels of false positives for many tests (common in breast, lung and prostate cancer screening especially), people still rally behind them. We ask our friends and relatives to help raise money for ‘the cure’ and are cheerleaders for the message of early detection.

In the world of breast cancer screening, many of us know a woman who has dealt successfully with the disease, and are led to believe that early screening saved a life. The truth is that some women, even with screening, will die. And many women, without screening, will be treated successfully. What’s often not factored into the decision-making process is the potential harm incurred from the many false positives, the subsequent radiation from repeated testing, and the pain and suffering from potential biopsies and treatment.

One of the most common side effects of medical screening — the wrenching psychological impact of telling someone they may have cancer when they don’t — is rarely taken into account. And it’s significant.

The latest research for breast cancer screening, from the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, says that you’d have to give mammograms to 2,100 women aged 40 to 49 every two years for 11 years to save one life. In the interim, screening will result in almost 700 false positives (think more testing, more x-rays and investigations) and about 75 women will have an unnecessary biopsy.

Informed decision-making the best medicine

Early screening on its own, without the evidence to back up its usefulness in saving or improving lives, is not only costly to our public health system, but may actually cause patient harm.

The principle here is that even when saving a life by screening seems the intuitive and right thing to do, it’s not a deal you should ever enter into without understanding the probabilities first — your chances of being helped or hurt by the test. Talk to your health provider, and always ask for the evidence.

Related stories:  Breast Cancer Gene Risk May Be Overstated

Tamoxifen link to second tumors

Health in Life, Feb. 15, 2011
Many years ago now, Dr. Samuel Epstein of Chicago raised serious concerns about Tamoxifen. Perhaps more people should have been listening. More people should be listening to the fact that annual screening mammogram promotes breast cancer. (Suggestion: Request Thermography) Long-term use of a common breast cancer drug may hike the risk of developing a deadly second tumour, a study suggests. Tamoxifen, given to thousands of women, prevents tumours being fuelled by the sex hormone oestrogen, and stops them returning after surgery. But a US study links use of the drug to a four-fold raised risk of developing a more aggressive, difficult-to-treat tumour, not dependent on oestrogen.Full story