Mammograms: Are they worthless?


RESEARCH COMMENTARY by Luana DeAngelis:

Twenty five year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality

Canadian National Breast Screening Study: randomized screening trial

This study, has alarmed some and made others feel they should possibly cancel or wait to take treatment for small tumors. Please don’t cancel your cancer surgery! For others it definitely makes us consider holding off on our next mammogram. Seriously, we’ve been hoping for any excuse to not get our breasts crushed and radiated by that barbaric machine for years! But ladies, before you go making life and death decisions on this, hold on!! Here’s what we’ve already known:

1. A certain percentage of cancers will go on to metastasize regardless of the treatment

2. Mammograms can have a negative effect on breast tissue and increase risk of cellular damage (cancer)

3. Our current system of mammograms and research on new drugs hasn’t affected the incidence, prevalence or death rate from breast cancers

4. Not getting cancer at all is undoubtedly the best option.

So what is new about this study? To begin lets point out that the study itself was using old film technology not our current standard of digital mammograms, perhaps if they did a study using new technologies they’d get a more favorable outcome. However would it benefit people with cancer to spend more funding on mammograms?

This study results illustrate that mammograms do not impact overall survival and can result in over treatment in some cases. But it really only found what we’ve already known to be true, that the biology of a cancer trumps staging. In other words, if you have an aggressive cancer that is life threatening, finding it early isn’t necessarily going to change the overall outcome.

This is why so many find it more feasible to opt for prophylactic mastectomies when they are at high risk of developing breast cancer, because our surgical procedures continue to improve, while our diagnostics do not. Bottom line: Women will benefit in knowing what works for them individually, being aware of their bodies, risk factors and after researching they may decide to utilize other options or a combination strategy that may have higher effectiveness after consulting with medical team. All of our current diagnostics have downsides and you must know what works best for you and what doesn’t.

I have always felt that we have largely overestimated the importance of screening and spent far too much “pink” funding on sustaining and providing mammograms. It is my hope that now funders will be more open to look at and fund other forms of new screening and actual prevention.

People at risk and those that have already been diagnosed, don’t get discouraged. There are many other things that do qualify as actual prevention, other than pre-emptive mastectomies and drugs.

The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study (WHEL) study shows that maintaining a diet with five servings of vegetables per day and exercising thirty minutes five days a week can double your chances of survival. This strategy helps even those cancers that are the most pathological aggressive and have few treatment options. Other studies have also concluded this. We can prevent cancer from even happening in over 1/3 of the cases using the same diet and active lifestyle.

We are not powerless. We can create better outcomes. If this 50% improvement was a drug treatment people would come far and wide to implement it, and there would be vast funding spent on giving and getting the treatment. Yet who is utilizing this treatment extensively with patients or helping people to implement it? Additionally, I didn’t see much about this positive study that recently concluded on the larger news outlets yet– but I am still hoping they cover it far and wide.

Perhaps we can begin to now focus on PREVENTION or CASUAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH. I mean really, how can we cure something if we don’t know what causes it?

Also, not to sound like a broken record, but how about focusing some of that funding on actually helping people (women) diagnosed with b