ABC News polled 510 women about breast screening in 2007. Only four in 10 women in this poll say they’ve ever given themselves a breast self-exam; fewer — 27 percent — report having done a self-exam in the past month, as is suggested starting at age 20. Even among women over 40 with a family history of the disease — two key risk factors — just 38 percent do monthly self-exams. Many women worry about breast cancer, but few talk to a doctor, get mammograms or do self-breast-exam (SBE). With breast cancer as the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, why is this?
What Women Say
Women we’ve polled often say they avoid SBE specifically because they don’t want to find a lump. Other’s say they simply don’t think to do it. Yet others admit feeling that a sense of love and care is absent from these prescribed screening practices. They admit self-breast exam and mammography are practices based on disease screening, rather than actually promoting the cellular health of breasts.
Many of us have a rather thoughtful conflict about how to deal with breast cancer. We want to know what sources of information we can trust…yet those whom we turn to often follow a rigid industry-based model, driven by profit motives and disease treatment, with little to no real lifestyle advice on how to keep breast tissue at its peak of health.
Obviously, hiding our heads in the sand, being forgetful or approaching our breasts with fear and avoidance are certainly not loving health practices. Yet we must agree, SBE and mammography are indeed strictly disease-based techniques, and they have nothing to do with educating women on breast anatomy, physiology, function or even social aspects of breast care.
We’re not blind to the pink ribbon campaigns on TV commercials and the shelves of our local grocery stores. USA today reported January 2011 that all those pink ribbons have given women an inflated fear of the disease – and unrealistic expectations about the benefits of mammograms, according to Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. The decision to have a mammogram is actually more complex than many realize. In addition to causing “false alarms,” in which suspicious results later prove to be benign, mammograms also lead some women to undergo unnecessary treatments for tumors that aren’t actually life-threatening, she says. Ten percent to 33% of early breast tumors have no potential to kill. Because doctors can’t be certain which tumors will prove deadly, they tend to treat all of them, which subjects some women to unneeded therapies.
This information is not at all new. In 1974, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was warned by professor Malcolm C. Pike at the University of Southern California School of Medicine that a number of specialists had concluded that “giving a woman under age 50 a mammogram on a routine basis is close to unethical.” In the 1990′s, Dr. Samuel Epstein started warning people about the dangers of mammography, stating:
“The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad exposure increasing breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade’s screening… The high sensitivity of the breast, especially in young women, to radiation-induced cancer was known by 1970. Nevertheless, the establishment then screened some 300,000 women with X-ray dosages so high as to increase breast cancer risk by up to 20 percent in women aged 40 to 50 who were mammogramed annually.”
Most women hear only about the benefits of mammograms, and few realize that doctors have been hotly debating their use for more than a decade, says Steve Woloshin, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group in White River Junction, Vt.
“Radiation from a mammogram is 1000 times greater than that from a chest x-ray. It accumulates over time, with ten x-rays increasing your breast cancer risk by 10%. Mechanical compression of your breast – as well as a biopsy – can dislocate and spread existing malignant cells. A breast cancer growth has grown for 7-8 years and reached 4-10 billion cells before a mammogram can detect it. This is not early detection!”
Source: Dr. Mercola, “The Safe Breast Cancer Screening Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You About.”
Journal of Surgical Onc. 1997, 65(4), 284-97
Better Breast Cancer Screening
There is a technology available for breast screening that is non-invasive, pain free and radiation-free. It’s called thermography or thermal imaging.
While breast cancer screening of any kind is not a substitute for self-awareness (which is why we love self-breast massage as an intelligent breast health practice), every woman should consider debunking the myths about mammography, breast cancer and self breast exam. Look into the loving practices of self-breast massage, whole foods, lifestyle balancing, learning more about endocrine disruptors, and for breast screening, thermography for true early-detection. To boot, thermography can detect the most aggressive form of breast cancer–inflammatory breast cancer–whereas mammography cannot.
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