Last week I wrote about Preventing Breast Cancer – Top 8 Best Practices to significantly reduce your risk of breast cancer. If you haven’t checked it out, you need to. If you consistently follow the strategies I outlined, your risk of breast cancer will fall below the 5% threshold. Even if you carry a BRAC gene, since only 25% of gene carriers are ever diagnosed. (Which means, there’s more to cancer than just genes!)
But let’s just say that God forbid, you have a symptom……or………you are following doctor’s orders, and you’re about to schedule a routine mammogram.
First, you should know that current guidelines at the time this article was written now advise that women begin regular mammograms at 50 instead of 40, and that mammograms are needed only every two years instead of annually between the ages of 50 and 74.
Second, before you schedule….can I have your ear? Breast cancer is BIG business and mammography is a profitable big industry. Several studies over the past few years have concluded that mammograms do not save lives.
- Have been the gold standard for years. And doctors are the most familiar with it. It is the “status quo”. The machines make hospitals money.
- Won’t confirm cancer – they will just identify a suspicious lesion. Now you are faced with the recommendation for a biopsy. I have a HUGE nugget for you in this article which is dedicated to breast biopsies.
- Aren’t great at detecting inflammatory breast cancer.
- Are imperfect if you’ve had breast implants. You at least need to go to an experienced technician, but also beware that implants “have the potential to obscure imaging.”
- Under-diagnose – especially if you have dense breasts. And then, you’ll be referred for more mammograms (more radiation), or an ultrasound or a thermogram.
- Over-diagnose – Several long-term, large, multi-center trials have confirmed this. For example, DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) is not cancer. But, due to high resolution mammograms, DCIS is being picked up on breast cancer screening tests. And, depending upon what advice a woman is then given, she may well be advised to get treatment, which she rarely needs.
- Expose you to ionizing radiation which actually raises your overall risk of cancer – The main beam will scatter once inside your body. There is no protection for this except to eat a lot of anti-oxidants to neutralize free radicals formed (yes, we should be doing this anyway right?!)
- The “new and improved” type of mammogram called 3D tomosynthesis exposes you to even HIGHER doses of radiation than a standard mammogram.
As you can see, there ARE issues.
“Annual mammography in women aged 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer beyond that of physical examination or usual care when adjuvant therapy for breast cancer is freely available. Overall, 22 percent of screen detected invasive breast cancers were over-diagnosed, representing one over-diagnosed breast cancer for every 424 women who received mammography screening in the trial.”
In Switzerland, mammograms are the 3rd line of therapy (first being a thermogram, second being an ultrasound, and last is the mammogram).
Now, let’s discuss thermograms. First, what is a thermogram? It’s merely an image of the heat of your body. Studies show that a thermogram identifies precancerous or cancerous cells years before mammography.
- Is a 15-minute non-invasive test.
- Involves no radiation. Zero.
- Can identify early stage breast disease.
- As stated above, mammograms are unable to diagnose breast cancer, so it’s fairly common that a woman completes a mammogram, and then also is asked to do a thermogram if anything is suspicious.
- Is better for dense breasts.
- Is better if implants are involved.
- Is better than a mammogram at detecting changes occurring in the arm pit area.
- Can detect subtle changes that accompany breast pathology, whether it is cancer, or Fibrocystic disease.
- Is particularly useful to women who are under the age of 50, as mammography is less effective.
- Is safe for pregnant and nursing women!
But before you schedule a thermogram, here are some things you still need to know.
- Not all insurance companies cover it. Of course, right?! It sadly seems it never is about what is best – and safest – for the patient. Just their bottom line.
- Not all thermographic equipment is the same. When you are choosing a thermography center, be sure to ask what the “drift factor” is for their machines. Anything over 0.2 degrees centigrade leads to poor reproducibility.
- Also, the room in which the study is performed should be free of outside light and the temperature should always be at 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit, with a proper cooling system in place.
- Be sure that your thermography center of choice is backed by qualified, board-certified physicians who are specifically trained in the interpretation of these images.
- And, be sure that the physician is available to explain and discuss all findings. Finally, make sure the images are “stat”-ed or marked up for future comparison.
More info about thermography here: http://www.thermologyonline.org/
Find a thermography center in your state here: http://www.thermologyonline.org/Breast/breast_thermography_clinics.htm
Whether you opt for a mammogram or a thermogram, please continue studying the research. And if you opt for a thermogram and find out your insurance company doesn’t cover it, they are not thousands of dollars like you might think. They can run as little as $175, which may be worth it to not add fuel to a fire. Some people spend this on a pair of shoes, a purse, their Christmas outfit, or latte’s/juices and meals on the go.
Trust your judgement. Our intuition is right, more often than not. If you feel pressured by your doctor to do a mammogram, and it just doesn’t sit right with you, honor that.
If you do a thermogram and there are some unhealthy things going on, you have time to address them through diet and lifestyle. Be sure to read the breast cancer prevention strategies. And understand the risks with biopsies.