Are Mammograms Always a Good Choice?

A new study found that mammograms have led to false cancer diagnoses and unnecessary treatment for more than a million women in the last decade. An article in the Washington Post cited the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine November 21. According to the study, nearly a third of the women treated for breast cancer in the last decade would not have developed the disease if left untreated.

And treatment for breast cancer patients cost the American public $13.9 billion in 2006, according to the National Cancer Institute. “Mammograms save lives,” say the pamphlets. “Death rates from breast cancer are falling because of early diagnosis due to regular screening.” But professor Peter C. Gøtzsche and researcher Karsten Juhl Jørgensen of the Nordic Cochrane Centre disagree. They wrote a paper on the subject that was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that stated their disagreement with what they say are misleading claims. In the paper, they stated that death rates from breast cancer are falling because the treatments are more effective—not because of regular screenings.

In a study published in BMJ, Jørgensen, Gøtzsche and senior researcher Per-Henrik Zahl wrote that they were unable to find an effect of the Danish mammography-screening program on breast cancer mortality. “The reductions in breast cancer mortality we observed in screening regions were similar or less than those in non-screened areas and in age groups too young to benefit from screening, and are more likely explained by changes in risk factors and improved treatment than by screening mammography,” the authors wrote in the study.

Another common belief is that mammograms reduce the number of women that have to undergo a mastectomy. According to Gøtzsche and Jørgensen , “such claims are seriously misleading. Danish data has demonstrated that because of over-diagnosis, screening increases the use of mastectomies substantially.”

The Washington Post article also cited a study of Norwegian breast cancer patients that found that routine mammograms reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by less than 10 percent. Another study comparing European nations where screening became prevalent in the 1990s with areas where screening became widespread in the 2000s and found no difference in the death rate.

So what can you do? Take good care of yourself: exercise, eat fresh food, get regular rest, maintain a strong social support system, and stay away from known carcinogens like tobacco. Learn to depend upon your own common sense when dealing with the medical community.

Yoga increases mind-body integration, reduces stress, and increases inner silence and overall well-being, making it a good way to cultivate the ability to trust one’s own judgment and not be panicked into unnecessary treatments.

Studies have shown that yoga can play an important role in bringing the inner stability, stress reduction, peace and happiness that are key to successfully sorting through treatment options, dealing with insurance companies, living through treatment, and conquering cancer.

Mammograms leading to unnecessary treatment, study finds, by N.C. Aizenman, published 21 November 2012,Washington Post Health and Science section

NHS Breast Screen Program Does Not Give Women Informed Choice, It Misinforms The Public, UK, by Grace Rattue, American College of Clinical Thermology, published 4 September 2011

Breast cancer mortality in organized mammography screening in Denmark: comparative study, BMJ, published 24 March 2010

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