Breast Cancer Mortality Lower Without Mammograms

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The President's Cancer Panel recent 200-page report seems to imply environmental chemical pollutants are a major cause of cancer. This fear mongering report will only distract people from the environmental insults research shows have a far more powerful impact on the development of cancer.

There is no reason to believe that the risk of breast cancer from all chemical pollutants combined is nearly as great as other established risk factors discussed in the December 2009 CFFH issue. This report only reinforces the false notion that women are dying from breast cancer because of things beyond their control. In fact decisions women make about their diet and lifestyle have a far greater on their risk of developing or dying from breast cancer than man-made environmental pollutants.

American doctors and the companies churning out mammography machines have convinced most women the best way to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer is a regular mammogram. The US Preventative Task Force's recent recommendation that US women have fewer mammograms was met by public outcry because it went against conventional "wisdom" and suggested most women might be better off having fewer screening mammograms. However, data from a long running observational study in Denmark certainly refutes the notion that mammograms are actually do anything to cut the risk of dying from breast cancer.1

What this study did was examine deaths from breast cancer in two counties (Copenhagen and Funen) before and after mammograms were offered to all women and compared those two counties with data from women in rest of Denmark who lived in other counties where screening mammograms were not offered. Most of the women in Copenhagen and Funen started getting "free" screening mammograms in the early 1990s whereas in the rest of Denmark screening mammograms were not offered and less than 1% of women got them. The data from this observational study clearly show that in the counties where screening mammograms became the norm women (35-54y and 55-74y) experienced a modest decline in breast cancer mortality over the next decade or so. However, the decline in breast cancer mortality in all the other counties in Denmark where screening mammograms were not offered was at least as large. Indeed, in the group of women are claimed to benefit the most from screening mammograms (55 to 74y) the average annual decline in breast cancer mortality was only 1% in Copenhagan and Funen or half the 2% annual decline observed during the same time period in all the other counties where very few women got screening mammograms.

Bottom Line: Given the known risk associated with screening mammograms it seems hard to justify their routine use for women of any age since they clearly do not lead to any meaningful decline in breast cancer mortality and lead to needless anxiety, biopsies, and treatments that cause harm without reducing breast cancer mortality. Time and money is better spent on education for a diet that reduces the risk of cancer and many other diseases.

 

By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN.

 

1. BMJ 2010;340:c1241

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