During the summer of 1975, I worked on a high school grant at the Papanicolaou Cancer Research institute with my sister. I was categorizing literature while my sister donned her white lab coat, disappearing into the lab rooms where they grew tumors on rats in order to observe and determine how to treat them. I truly believe our medical forefathers like Dr. Papanicolaou were acting in the best interest of the human race, such as when Dr. Papanicolaou developed such screening procedures as the pap test. Unfortunately, it appears to be extremely difficult for scientists and pharmaceuticals (via our government) to release new information that is diametrically opposed to a precedent. Couple this with greed from the income generated by things such as potentially unnecessary mammogram screenings and we are painting a very ugly picture.
In addressing the adverse side of a screening mammogram, I want to be extremely sensitive with my words amongst breast cancer survivors. I wish to take great care not to offend women fighting breast cancer. We all have loved ones and friends living with this dreadful disease. This article is meant to offer both sides of the mammogram issue, not just the side supported by the “face of the pink ribbon”, Nancy Goodman Brinker, the CEO of Susan G. Komen. (Side note: In 2012, a Komen attempt to withdraw funding to Planned Parenthood for mammograms drew controversy, “leading to a significant decline in donations and event participation from which Komen has yet to fully recover.”)
Western medicine advises women across the board, no questions asked, to receive mammograms as a screening tool to detect cancer. The brief history of the mammogram came about in 1895, Germany, when Dr. Albert Solomon wanted to study diseased breast tissue removed from one of his patients. This slowly progressed to the first mammogram machine, introduced in 1966. Ten years later, it became the gold standard in the United States.
However, throughout the years this overreaching medical advice to the mainstream public has not been completely honest about research findings. Not once through the nearly twenty-five years that I have experienced these extremely offensive and potentially dangerous radioactive x-rays of my breasts, did any professional ever bring my attention to the downside of mammograms. (To start with, why is the woman doing my x-rays standing far away, behind a lead glass plate?)
Still, my Gynecologist and general healthcare professionals continually assure me that I must get annual mammograms in order to potentially save my life from breast cancer. I am harassed every year by Madison Avenue alerting me that I need a mammogram because it can detect cancer earlier, start treatment earlier, hence save my life. Every October I am confronted with obnoxious pink ribbons. Wherever I go, they are plastered on over fifty percent of the items I see in food and clothing stores. There is a copious following of people wearing pink ribbons and sporting pink tee shirts and caps. They think they are supporting breast cancer survivors, but what I believe is that they are perpetuating a medically projected and federally backed assault on American breast tissue.
For each of the past five or six years that I have refused the “life-saving” mammogram, I have received a rabid letter from my insurance company reprimanding me that I am overlooking my all-important annual mammogram. This letter lectures me for being irresponsible. Their verbiage is careful to make me aware that this must be an oversight on my part because how could anyone be so foolhardy to purposefully forego their advice and not get a mammogram? Every year after October passes my insurance representatives must be wondering what is wrong with me; don’t I see the sea of pink ribbons?
Yes, I see the pink and I hear the advice, but no, I will not get another screening mammogram unless I have a problem. After seventeen mammogram appointments and countless x-rays, I am furious at the lack of professional responsibility concerning their void of materiality. The latest facts are the same facts that have been available to us for years and they are angering, for those of us paying attention.
The following is a quote from one of the most impressive and widespread reports on mammogram screening put out by Oxford University in 2013 after 4,000 women were closely followed:
Every week it seems more research comes out clearly pointing to increased dangers and risk. Some experts even suggest that screening mammograms can actually cause breast cancer, with the group of women who have a genetic weakness at the highest risk, while others talk about false positives, over diagnosis and of untold worry and mental (not just physical) damage to women who were diagnosed yet simply never had breast cancer in the first place.
An investigative group called Cancer Active did an in-depth critique of the Oxford study and does not sugar coat their words, further saying, “Screening mammograms are next to worthless. We have been telling you this for nearly ten years. They do not save lives. In fact the groups of women who have had significantly less mortality over the last twenty years are younger women who don’t go near them! So says a 2013 study from Oxford University.”
And there is much more to consider as you make your annual mammogram appointment.
In 2012, the UK expert on cancer, Professor Mike Richards made a startling public announcement that reinforced what other American studies have been revealing for at least twenty-plus years. Screening mammograms possibly save 1,300 lives for 4,000 women that were misdiagnosed and treated for breast cancer that did not exist. In 2013 it shows new research that even disputes the number 1,300.
The 2013 stats are far more realistic as they concur with the 2011 Nordic Cochrane report that stated, “Out of every 2,000 routine screening mammograms that are done on healthy women, one life is saved. One. But the results do not end here and this is what I want women to listen to. Out of these same healthy women, two hundred will be falsely diagnosed and ten healthy women will have their breasts mutilated further through unnecessary surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and more.”
Do the numbers add up for you? They do not for me.
Another finding from Cancer Active is especially unsettling. They project there has never been any evidence to support that even one percent of women’s lives have been saved by a screening mammogram. And to complicate matters, inherited DNA that is known to cause breast cancer, such as the BRAC genes, occurs because these women go for double or more the amount of mammograms recommended to a normal woman: “In 2012 the highly respected Nordic Cochrane Centre produced a leaflet listing the benefits and harm of screening mammograms and concluded that screening mammograms caused more harm than good!”
Next, the researchers at Southampton University did their own study and absolutely without doubt agreed the Cochrane numbers and published this work in the British Medical Journal in December of 2011.
The following is from a 2012 CBS investigative report:
Mammograms may not offer the life-saving benefits many women may hope for, new research suggests. A big study of the U.S. population finds that mammograms have done surprisingly little to catch deadly breast cancers before they spread. What’s more, the researchers found more than one million women have been treated for cancers that likely would never have posed a threat to their lives.
The study suggests that up to one-third of breast cancers — or 50,000 to 70,000 cases a year — don’t need treatment.
Our study raises serious questions about the value of screening mammography,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of Dartmouth Medical School and Dr. Archie Bleyer of St. Charles Health System and Oregon Health & Science University. “And although no one can say with certainty which women have cancers that are over diagnosed, there is certainty about what happens to them: they undergo surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy for 5 years or more, chemotherapy, or (usually) a combination of these treatments for abnormalities that otherwise would not have caused illness.
Despite all of the latest information released to the public, millions of American women ignore all of these vital facts about their breast health and continue to follow the “politically correct” version of Western Medicine. One of the most crucial benefits of technology is the ability to research health issues, and these days accessibility to this information is at our fingertips. I believe it is arrogant, irresponsible and misleading for people in a position of power such as Komen Foundation’s Nancy Goodman Brinker to ignore (or hide?) all new research into mammograms, possibly for monetary reasons. In fact, in 2012, “a Komen attempt to withdraw funding to Planned Parenthood for mammograms drew controversy, leading to a significant decline in donations and event participation from which Komen has yet to fully recover.” Could this possibly be a reason new information about the dangers of mammograms isn’t reaching the public? I personally resent the fact that I had to go digging for the latest in mammogram research. Throughout my naïve youth, I worked for and paid money to doctors and mammogram facilities, while they told me they were helping me. In hindsight, I believe they were potentially harming me, leading me to think, ‘better safe than sorry’.
One solution is that physicians should inform their patients of all mammogram research and then let them make their own informed decision whether or not to have a mammogram. I implore gynecologists to be more responsible and for mammogram technicians to take a good moral look at what they do for a paycheck. (I am also wondering where the National Organization for Women/NOW stands on the mammogram controversy…)
In closing I want it to be known that I regularly examine my own breasts, and if I ever have a problem I will go to my doctor for a mammogram. However, if I ever did get breast cancer I would always wonder if the two decades of my previous “lifesaving mammograms” were not the original cause of this deadly and dreaded disease.
(I wrote this article in memory of my lovely and unique Republican Aunt Edna; may she rest in peace.)