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Originally published in Issue 4 2005 icon
A year or so ago, and reported in this magazine, the European Breast Cancer Conference reported on the accuracy of mammograms - at best mammograms are 67 per cent accurate and at worst 59 per cent, depending upon the density of your breast tissue. Further information was gleaned at the American equivalent conference where concern was expressed over misdiagnosis. Approximately half of all positive diagnosis is DCIS, or a ductal problem. As the professor at UCLA stated this is an issue of calcium deposits, not cancer, and only 20 per cent of DCIS actually ever leads to breast cancer.
At best mammograms are 67 per cent accurate
Now the American College of Clinical Thermology has published a full literature review in which they discuss the risks involved.
Correctly, they make the point that mammography is used either for screening or diagnosis and, in terms of diagnosis - where for example a lump already exists, mammography is considered the "gold standard" by specialists.
Their concern is that, in the case of regular screening, "The risks from radiation produced by a mammography are far greater than the proponents of this test are aware, or have been promoting".
Mammography involves a different type of radiation than that used in ordinary x-rays. Mammography uses a low energy form of ionising radiation. This can pass more readily through tissues but is up to five times more harmful than standard x-rays. The alpha particles of mammograms have both large mass and charge, quite unlike ordinary x-rays which have neither. (US Journal Radiation Research).
It is up to five times more harmful than standard x-rays
Furthermore the level of exposure when both breasts are photographed, (about 1 rad), is almost 1000 times higher than one chest x-ray, and pre-menopausal breast tissue has been shown to be especially sensitive to radiation. Each rad of radiation exposure has been shown to increase breast cancer risk by about 1 per cent. Ten years of annual screening will result in a 10 to 20 per cent increased breast cancer risk, and these risks increase the younger the subject.
Worse still, 1 to 2 per cent of women are silent carriers of the ataxia-telangiectasia gene and this is highly sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation.
If screening is your concern and you can afford it, thermography is an excellent non-invasive and accurate alternative. icon has covered thermography in detail before.
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