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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I'm glad there is to be a review of breast cancer screening

BBC News reports that the national cancer director for England, Prof Mike Richards, intends to lead a review of breast cancer screening. Well, not before time! Speaking for myself, I'm not a fan of breast cancer screening, by which I mean screening using mammograms. I believe that routine mammography screening to detect breast cancer does far, far more harm than good. Mammograms have definitely been oversold to women and the disadvantages downplayed. Obviously mammograms will occasionally bring cancers to light that need to be dealt with and this may save the lives of some women and that, of course, is a good thing for those women. But there are far more false positives found, that lead to unnecessary worry and unnecessary surgery, and these are usually cited as the biggest disadvantage to this screening. And there are other big disadvantages: the damage and risk of the radiation itself, and the damage from the great mechanical pressure on each breast when it is painfully squashed/flattened between two metal plates for the X-ray to be taken.

What is rarely mentioned is the possibility that the radiation from the mammography may in itself prove carcinogenic to women being screened. - If you look at this Radiation Chart I think you will be amazed/shocked at how high the dose of radiation from a mammogram is, compared with other X-rays. And breast tissue is extra radiosensitive due to continuous cellular growth activity. - And when you consider that these are not just one-off X-rays... - Well, I consider it pretty risky myself, unless there are symptoms to justify the risk. - But screening refers to routine tests in people without symptoms; it's not about following up symptoms. - And consider the effect of the pressure on the breast of being squashed flat between those metal plates.. - This is usually described by health professionals as 'discomfort', but 'discomfort' it ain't! If the skin of the breasts is thin and there are visible, swollen veins, e.g. as a result of having taken steroids, HRT, antidepressants or certain other prescribed drugs, then it's excruciating pain, and, I would contend, actually causes trauma and permanent damage to that thin skin and those delicate, thin-walled veins. I had a mammogram (not screening) many years ago and you wouldn't catch me having another mammogram, ever. - See also this wise advice about diagnostic technologies. And see Dr Briffa's blog article posted today.