The subject of mammography and its value as a screening tool for early identification of breast cancer has long been a contentious issue, especially as it relates to people who, like me, believe it poses a greater threat than the one the medical establishment claim it prevents.
Currently, women between the ages of 47 and 73 are invited for regular mammography screening as part of the NHS intervention strategy aimed at achieving earlier breast cancer diagnoses and, consequently, higher survival rates.
However, there is, and has for some time, been growing dissent within the scientific community over the public health sector’s broad assertion that mammography is effective in the areas of both diagnosis and prognosis.
As recently as January of this year, the American Cancer Society published research that shows around 12.5 per cent of breast cancers already present in the body are missed by mammography screening.
And the scepticism around the issue of mammograms effectiveness and safety is borne out by the decisions by Switzerland and some parts of Canada, Scotland and Italy in the last decade to abolish routine screening mammography for women.
There are other reasons that support an argument to extend the screening options for women in the UK to include screening tools that do not use x-ray technology.
1. Mammography does NOT prevent breast cancer
This is an inarguable fact, regardless of what public health agencies would like you to believe. Even if it were 100 per cent effective, which it is not (see point 2 below), a mammogram can only ever tell you that you have or do not have breast cancer. It cannot and does not identify the anomalies in breast tissue health that could indicate high cancer risk and allow lifestyle and nutritional changes that might avert it.
The very best outcome achievable through mammography is for your cancer to be correctly identified, and at an early enough stage to allow effective treatment that puts it into remission.
2. A mammogram may not identify your cancer at all
I have already cited the American Cancer Society figure of 12.5 per cent diagnosis inaccuracy. But there is also evidence to suggest this figure is actually much higher, suggesting as many as a third of tumours go undetected.
3. Mammography carries a risk of over-diagnosis
Under-diagnosis can have terminal consequences, but over-diagnosis – where cancer is wrongly identified as being present – also results in negative health outcomes for women through unnecessary and unpleasant treatments that can have long-term side-effects, increase the risk of other diseases, or lead to life-altering surgery.
4. Mammography can increase the risk of health women contracting cancer
By the technology it employs, a routine mammogram x-ray means women receive annual exposure to high doses of radiation. Over the course of 15 to 20 years, this accumulation can lead to the development of cancer.
The risk/reward ratio of this is naturally fluid – for women at the higher end of the screening age threshold, the benefits may well outweigh the risks as they are less likely to see a diagnosis in their lifetime. At 47, the prospect of seeing a cancer diagnosis ahead of your 70th birthday may make the benefit of routine screening less attractive.
There is also evidence to suggest that the aggressive manipulation of breast tissue that mammography entails – the tissue being squeezed between two heavy x-ray plates – can itself trigger changes in breast tissue health that can lead to cancer.
(And I should add, as a caveat, that routine screening for those women with a familial history of breast cancer presents a very different argument.)
5. Public health agencies deprive women of choice
More than 30 years ago, Dr Vernon Coleman wrote an article criticising the use of mammography in regular screening. Perhaps inevitably it was not received well, and there was a generally held view that some sort of screening was better than none at all.
But the world, research and evidence-base has since moved on, and it is increasingly weighted in favour of those who remain sceptical about its benefits.
In the same period, technology and innovation have also moved on and where, in 1988 when Dr Coleman wrote his original articles, there was no viable, non-invasive alternative to radiation-based mammography screening, the same is not true now.
At The Natural Doctor we offer breast ThermoCheck® thermography screening, which uses thermal imaging technology to check for the changes in breast tissue temperature that can signify a decline in breast health and an increased risk of breast cancer.
ThermoCheck® thermography is non-invasive – meaning there is no contact with your skin at all – and when performed at the right ambient temperature can detect cancer risk up to a decade before a tumour forms – leaving you with the opportunity to make lifestyle changes and adopt natural treatments that can mean avoiding a future cancer diagnosis.
Despite the availability of alternative screening options, however, the UK health authorities have been overwhelmingly resistant to ensuring women are able to make an informed choice about their health care options.
I think that is wrong, and an abdication of the duty and responsibility of our healthcare system to provide information about all possible routes to better health, even if the NHS itself is not prepared to provide access to them.
If you’d like to find out more about The Natural Doctor and how ThermoCheck® Breast Thermography can help and support you in the most natural way possible, please get in touch for an informal, confidential, no obligation chat – we’d love to hear from you.