Recently there have been some studies showing that for women at high risk of breast cancer, annual mammograms may increase their risk of contracting the disease.

Women with a genetic disposition or familial history need to begin screening at a younger age, some as early as 20 years of age, because they often develop cancer earlier than women of average risk. Since every medical intervention is associated with risks, there was some concern the low levels of radiation emitted during the mammogram may be a cancer risk. And because science is self correcting, (unlike some other types of self proclaimed “health care”) studies were conducted to test the hypothesis.

One such study, described in a press release on EurekAlert! (and I’ll explain why I’m discussing a study from a press release in a moment) reported that women at high risk of early onset breast cancer receiving annual mammograms showed an average increased cancer risk 1.5 times greater than that of high-risk women not exposed to low-dose radiation. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Breast cancer is second only to lung cancers as the biggest cancer risk for women, so health authorities take such findings very seriously. Even if, in this case the authors warned that the study was a small sample size and should be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless, the American Cancer Society recommends that some women at high risk (greater than 20 percent lifetime risk) should have MR imaging (MRI) or ultrasound every year, typically beginning at age 30, instead of mammograms.

But one newsgroup is not treating these findings with caution. The alternative medicine website “Natural News” reported today that “Study verifies mammography screenings cause cancer “. Not only is the headline misleading but the text, adapted from the press release is rather inaccurate.

Take this line from the press release published on EurekAlert!;

Alternative screening methods such as ultrasound and MRI may be made available to younger women, but are generally used as an adjunct to mammography.

Which was reported by Natural News as;

Ultrasounds, MRIs, and heat thermography screenings are some alternatives that do not expose patients to radiation.

Somehow thermography was slipped in there are as a valid alternative to mammograms, even though it is not mentioned in the press release.

In fact, thermography is not recommended by the following cancer bodies (as of May 2007) as a tool for diagnosing breast cancer.
– BreastScreen Australia
– National Breast Cancer Centre
– Royal College of Radiologists of Australia and New Zealand
– American Medical Association
– American Cancer Society
– Cancer Research UK
– Mayo Clinic, USA
– Australian Therapeutics Goods Administration
– Medicare Australia.

This however, is simply more evidence for Mike the Health Ranger, author of the story (who by the way is not an oncologist, a doctor, or a scientist) that

…mammograms are really “repeat business machines” for the cancer industry.

He declares that this small scale, preliminary study is evidence that there is

…no reason for any women to ever receive a mammogram ever again.

And that;

Ultrasound and thermography should now be the new standard for breast cancer detection screenings, as they do not subject women to excess radiation.

Thanks for the medical advice Mike. Seems like the thermography business now stands to make a packet load. But he’s not finished yet,

In fact, mammograms represent the slickest marketing gimmick we’ve ever seen in modern medicine. It’s a technology that recruits new patients by actually causing the disease is claims to “detect.”

Well then it’s not doing a very good job, since this only works for women at high risk already.

But, there is a very good reason why thermography is not the preferred method for detection of breast cancers and no Mike, it’s not because of the “Big Cancer” wanting to line it’s pockets. It’s because it it not a very sensitive technique, therefore it can miss cancers.

In line with this, the following statement appears on the Breast Screen website

“Studies have shown that a tumour has to be large (several centimetres in diameter) before it can be detected by thermography (Homer 1985). Screening mammograms have the ability to detect breast cancer at a much smaller size, and therefore to reduce deaths from breast cancer. Less than 50% of breast cancers detected by mammography screening have an abnormal thermogram (Martin 1983).”

So it appears that if women only use thermography, there is a much greater risk that their cancer will be missed.

The final word goes to the study:

In general, early detection with mammography and prompt treatment can significantly improve a woman’s chances of survival. More than 90 percent of women whose breast cancer is found in an early stage will survive. For young, high-risk women and their doctors, it is important to weigh the benefits against any potential risk when making a decision about annual breast cancer screening with mammography.

So whilst mammograms may best be avoided if you are a woman in a high risk group, for others they are the most sensitive technique currently available for early breast cancer detection. This study certainly does not say they “cause cancer” and you should certainly not be taking advice from an alt. med. website or from a guy who makes his living from pimping alt. med. products.

And likewise, don’t take advice from me. Talk to your doctor.

References: Homer MJ 1985: “Breast Imaging: Pitfalls, controversies and some practical thoughts” Radiological Clinics of North America 23: 459-471. Martin JE 1983: “Breast imaging techniques, mammography, ultrasonography, computed tomography, thermography and transillumination” Radiological Clinics of North America 21: 149-153

Listen to Dr Rachie reports this week on the Zone for more information about thermography for breast cancer. Woo!

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  • AndyD

    I’m suddenly in the mood for a Spam sandwich 🙂

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  • AndyD

    So let me get this straight… doctors don’t know much about nutrition so we should take advice on treating cancer from a chef?
    “There’s a warp in the space-time continuum captain!”

  • Brian

    Breast cancer is first among cancers then lung cancer comes second as most common causes of cancer among women. If your where talking about cancers that cause deaths among women then your comment about breast cancer being second to lung cancer among women would be correct. According to

    Ten-year risk of false positive screening mammograms and clinical breast examinations.
    Elmore JG,
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    Barton MB,
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    Moceri VM,
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    Fletcher SW
    Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle 98195-6429, USA.
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    The New England Journal of Medicine [1998, 338(16):1089-96]

    Type: Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t

    DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199804163381601
    Abstract Highlight Terms
    BACKGROUND: The cumulative risk of a false positive result from a breast-cancer screening test is unknown.

    METHODS: We performed a 10-year retrospective cohort study of breast-cancer screening and diagnostic evaluations among 2400 women who were 40 to 69 years old at study entry. Mammograms or clinical breast examinations that were interpreted as indeterminate, aroused a suspicion of cancer, or prompted recommendations for additional workup in women in whom breast cancer was not diagnosed within the next year were considered to be false positive tests.

    RESULTS: A total of 9762 screening mammograms and 10,905 screening clinical breast examinations were performed, for a median of 4 mammograms and 5 clinical breast examinations per woman over the 10-year period. Of the women who were screened, 23.8 percent had at least one false positive mammogram, 13.4 percent had at least one false positive breast examination, and 31.7 percent had at least one false positive result for either test. The estimated cumulative risk of a false positive result was 49.1 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 40.3 to 64.1 percent) after 10 mammograms and 22.3 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 19.2 to 27.5 percent) after 10 clinical breast examinations. The false positive tests led to 870 outpatient appointments, 539 diagnostic mammograms, 186 ultrasound examinations, 188 biopsies, and 1 hospitalization. We estimate that among women who do not have breast cancer, 18.6 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 9.8 to 41.2 percent) will undergo a biopsy after 10 mammograms, and 6.2 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 3.7 to 11.2 percent) after 10 clinical breast examinations. For every 100 dollars spent for screening, an additional 33 dollars was spent to evaluate the false positive results.

    CONCLUSIONS: Over 10 years, one third of women screened had an abnormal test result that required additional evaluation, even though no breast cancer was present. Techniques are needed to decrease false positive results while maintaining high sensitivity. Physicians should educate women about the risk of a false positive result from a screening test for breast cancer.

    If you are a cynic that is alot of emotional and physical pain not to mention money wasted on false positives, a more accurate and safer method needs to be found and used.

    X-rays damage DNA that is a fact if it did not there would be no need for lead suits to protect patients when they get an x-ray. Also some machines are not calibrated properly so many people have been irradiated at higher than safe doses.

    Deficiencies in vitamin D3 have been linked to cancers and other deseases. Nutrition plays a vital role in good health, even optimum health. If it did not we could all eat MacDonalds and Big Whoppers and be slim, smart and health and be able to think for ourselves.

    I am not a doctor, I am a chef and so nutrition is the main part of my job, doctor as a rule do not have to know about nutrition as many of my doctors have told me when questioned, although pediatricians do learn a little more than other doctors but not much more.

    Mike Adams does a great job maybe not 100% of the time but he gets things correct many times squared compared to doctors who do work with “big Pharma” as I see it being called here.

    How many people who have made adverse comments about Mike Adams work along side “big pharma”.

  • breast cancer is of course easy to diagnose early and very easy to treat if you catch it early”;”

  • Lynelle

    Hi .Some people are fortunate enough that chemo works becuase they catch it in time or they decide to cut it out. But other people are not so lucky. My mom had breast cancer as did her mother. Her mother caught the lump early on but chemo never got rid of it. Instead the tumor got resistant and after more rounds of chemo well they decided that it was time for her to go home and die. My mom found hers about 10 years ago. never went into chemo, or anything. Hers remain dormant for about 6 years.2yrs later the breast was a solid mass and she had pain from her neck down her side. She eventually decided that there needed to be a better way to deal with it that this constant radiation. she changed her diet, used some herbs which happened to be right in our backyard and got rid of her cancer. It’s no remission, totally gone. Anyone care to explain that??
    I’ve read both of your articles and Mike never recommends that thermography was an efficient alternative to mammograms. He was just stated his view on the matter which is why he specially placed it under a section called “Comments by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger”. I have also gone back to the original press release and when I compare his article to the release, parts of the release are in the article wholesale and he was only quoting at times what was in the article.
    Anyway, I personally who even if I believe in pure science(which I don’t) cannot believe that a body tissue that is regularly bombarded with X-radiation(x-ray) will not eventually get damaged and cause issues for my body.
    thank you for your time.

  • greg boz

    Very reckless of Mike Adams to recommend thermography as an efficient alternative to mammograms in early detection of breast cancer. At the same time, a 1.5 times increase in breast cancer for women genetically predisposed to the disease is nothing to scoff at. There needs to be more studies into the risk of mammograms. In the mean time, I’d know I’d prefer an MRI over a mammogram.

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  • Thanks for a welcome deconstruction. I admire your poise and focus on topic, there Doc. Mike leaves me yelling at totally innocent screens. A very ‘natural’ disgust seems to block out his blend of Amway cum Conspiracy.

    During Breast Cancer Awareness Month they ran a series of articles on the lies “hidden beneath a sea of pink”. Usual culprits: research is flawed/had enough time, no cure as yet, cure probably kept secret, the ‘sustainable industry’, it’s a lack of “natural” woo and/or a cause of unnatural woo…, gimme, gimme. They pull pieces regularly, but one suspects only when legally challenged despite gushing about “quality” and valuing suckers, er… readers.

    From their – notably long – Disclaimer at index base:
    All content posted on this site is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech. Truth Publishing International, LTD. is not responsible for content written by contributing authors. The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Truth Publishing assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material…..

  • Hi Jo,

    I agree that those references are old – that info is taken from the Breast Screen Australia website. A more recent review of thermography for breast cancer is here:

    Integr Cancer Ther. 2009 Mar;8(1):9-16.
    A comparative review of thermography as a breast cancer screening technique.

    Kennedy DA, Lee T, Seely D.

    The abstract says that “No single tool provides excellent predictability; however, a combination that incorporates thermography may boost both sensitivity and specificity. In light of technological advances and maturation of the thermographic industry, additional research is required to confirm the potential of this technology to provide an effective non-invasive, low risk adjunctive tool for the early detection of breast cancer.”

    So whilst there is probably a role for thermography, mainstream cancer bodies probably do not currently recommend it, perhaps because of a lack of evidence to date. Also these bodies move at a glacial pace, so it will probably take them some time to change their positions.

    You mention options, these exist in the form of MRI and ultrasound which are currently endorsed by cancer bodies.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • We should be working together to improve outcomes for women rather than discounting any particular technology. It is good to offer women a choice and a variety, as each technology can add information. It is important that the technologies are used properly and interpreted correctly.
    For thermography, it is useful if used and interpreted correctly. It is argued that thermography does not pick up early cancers, however the references above are over 25 years old.
    It is also argued above that early detection by mammogram and prompt treatment increases survival. How often does this actually happen? Early detection can be up to 2cm (large). If 1 cubic centimetre tumour is about 1 billion cells, and takes on average 8 years to show up on a mammogram, is there a better way of picking up evidence earlier?
    In Australia, 43% of women targeted for mammography do not have a regular mammogram. They are looking for an option. Also, 27% of those diagnosed are under 50 years young. There needs to be another option that is suitable for young women.
    Lets stop criticising valuable contributions to date and work together to change outcomes for women.
    That is what we are doing at Safe Breast Imaging.
    Jo Firth

  • Man, Mike Adams is such an ass. Thanks for the post.