Home Nutrition Tips Those Who Claim the Greatest Benefit From Mammograms May Ironically Suffer the Most Harm

Those Who Claim the Greatest Benefit From Mammograms May Ironically Suffer the Most Harm

20 min read

The mammogram paradox is that girls who’re harmed the most, are the ones who declare the biggest profit.

While false-positive outcomes, ache throughout the process, and radiation publicity could also be amongst the most frequent harms associated with mammogram screening, overdiagnosis “is now recognized as the most serious downside of population breast screening.” Overdiagnosis is so critical that the query has been raised whether or not it makes breast screening “worthless.” Indeed, the worth of performing routine mammograms in any respect is being questioned as a result of overdiagnosis, which is “the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer that would never have become a threat to a woman’s health, or even apparent, during her lifetime.”

“The public thinks once you have a cancer cell in your body, it will progress predictably and inevitably to a terrible death. That is simply not true of most cancers.” Some cancers outgrow their blood provide and turn out to be starved and wither away, and others are acknowledged by our immune system and efficiently contained. Others nonetheless “are simply not that aggressive in the first place,” so, though they may proceed to develop unchecked, it could be at such a gradual fee that it will be many years and even centuries earlier than they could possibly be sufficiently big to trigger any issues. So, in impact, you’d die with your tumor as an alternative of from your tumor.

Indeed, post-mortem research of younger and middle-aged girls who died in a automotive accident, for instance, found that 20 % of them had most cancers of their breast. That’s about one in 5 girls strolling round with breast most cancers. Now, that sounds so much scarier than it’s as a result of, in that age vary, the threat of dying from breast most cancers is lower than 1 %. In reality, your threat of ever dying from breast most cancers in your lifetime is lower than 4 %, which works to indicate that many of those cancers which can be discovered by the way—most of them, in truth—would probably have fizzled out on their very own. 

The drawback is that we proceed to have an antiquated definition of most cancers that dates again to the 1860s. To today, most cancers is defined by what it appears like beneath a microscope, not by what its subsequent conduct is. So, based on that mid-Nineteenth century definition, one in 5 girls followed in that one examine technically had most cancers, however that doesn’t essentially imply the most cancers would go on to do something. 

So, if most cancers is so frequent, do you even wish to find out about it? This is the query I talk about in my video Understanding the Mammogram Paradox. Certainly, if the most cancers will progress and trigger an issue, then catching it early might save your life, but when it’s by no means going to develop, if it’s going to stay microscopic, then discovering it might truly harm you. A probable state of affairs upon discovering it could possibly be: We discovered that you’ve most cancers so we now have to deal with it with surgical procedure, chemotherapy, and radiation—no matter it takes—and then you definately’d undergo all the bodily results of remedy and the psychological hell of fearing in your life. But, if in truth the most cancers was by no means going to trigger an issue, all of that might have been utterly pointless. That is overdiagnosis.

These sorts of automotive accident-type post-mortem research, as you’ll be able to see at 2:55 in my video, show that 7 to 39 % of ladies aged 40 to 70 are strolling round with tiny breast cancers and 30 to 70 % of males older than 60 have prostate cancers. And, as much as one hundred pc of older adults have microscopic cancers of their thyroid glands, but only one in a 1,000—0.1 %—finally ends up struggling or dying from thyroid most cancers. Normally, the most cancers simply sits there and doesn’t do something. Likewise, despite the fact that the majority of older males might have tiny cancers of their prostates or a big variety of girls have them of their breasts, the lifetime threat of demise or most cancers unfold is just about 4 %. So, for those who had a magic wand that might choose up most cancers with one hundred pc accuracy and waved it in entrance of individuals, your overdiagnosis fee—the likelihood that the prostate most cancers you’d choose up would have turned out to be innocent—is about 90 %. This can be the case for almost each single thyroid most cancers and a big proportion of breast most cancers instances. This is why screening for these cancers—most cancers of the prostate, thyroid, and breast—could be difficult and even probably harmful. In many instances and generally most instances, you’d have been higher off if that they had by no means discovered the cancers. 

This shouldn’t be true for all cancers, although. Researchers have discovered “little evidence of overdiagnosis of either cervical or colorectal cancer,” for instance. Those cancers appear to proceed to develop, so the earlier you catch them, the higher. When pap smears had been instituted, cervical most cancers demise charges plummeted, as an illustration, and only a single sigmoidoscopy carried out between the ages of 55 and 65 might decrease one’s threat of dying from colorectal most cancers by as much as 40 %. In distinction, a examine discovered that “annual mammography in women aged 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer” in any respect. But, if we assume a 15 % drop and a 30 % overdiagnosis fee, which most research have discovered, that might “mean that for every 2000 women invited for [mammogram] screening throughout 10 years, 1 woman will have her life prolonged and 10 healthy women, who would not have breast cancer diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be treated unnecessarily.” That is, ten wholesome girls could be overdiagnosed. If that they had skipped screening, they might not have been advised they’ve breast most cancers and undergone remedy they didn’t want. 

“Furthermore, about 1000 women…will have had a false-positive diagnosis,” a false alarm that may be irritating when you await the outcomes. But the harms brought on by turning into a most cancers affected person unnecessarily could be lifelong—and might even imply a shorter life. “It is also important to be aware that some of the healthy overdiagnosed women will die from their treatment.” For instance, radiation remedies for breast most cancers can’t assist however penetrate down into the coronary heart as nicely, growing the threat of coronary heart illness, which is the primary killer of ladies. 

This raises questions on doing routine mammography screening in any respect, because it “converts thousands of healthy women into cancer patients unnecessarily”—and a few might not make it out alive. Ironically, although, those that do survive become mammography’s greatest cheerleaders, pondering mammograms saved their lives. The mammogram discovered a most cancers they didn’t even know that they had. Yes, the remedy was tough with the surgical procedure, radiation, and chemo medication, but it surely labored and life was saved. “What a relief she got that mammogram!” “You should get one, too!” In actuality, the extra probably state of affairs—in truth, perhaps the ten instances extra probably state of affairs—is that the remedy didn’t do something as a result of the most cancers wouldn’t have harm you anyway. So, you went by means of all that ache and struggling for nothing. That’s the loopy factor about mammograms: the people who find themselves harmed the most are the ones who declare the biggest profit.


  • The mammogram paradox: Women who’re harmed the most are the ones who declare the biggest profit.
  • Overdiagnosis—the analysis and remedy of breast most cancers that by no means would have even threatened the lady’s well being—is acknowledged as the most critical draw back of inhabitants breast screening, much more than false-positives, ache throughout the process, and radiation publicity.
  • It is a fantasy {that a} most cancers cell will essentially progress and lead to demise. Some cancers wither away on their very own, others are efficiently contained by our immune system, and lots of might develop so slowly that it could be many years earlier than they could possibly be problematic.
  • Cancer, when discovered, could also be handled with surgical procedure, chemotherapy, and radiation, inflicting bodily and psychological trauma. If that most cancers was by no means going to trigger any well being issues, none of that might have been mandatory.
  • For instance, 7 to 39 % of ladies aged 40 to 70 have tiny breast cancers, 30 to 70 % of males older than 60 have prostate cancers, and as much as one hundred pc of older adults have microscopic cancers of their thyroid glands, but solely 0.1 % finally ends up struggling or dying from thyroid most cancers.
  • Because of overdiagnosis, screening for cancers of the prostate, thyroid, and breast could be difficult and even probably harmful, however researchers have discovered little proof of overdiagnosis of colorectal or cervical most cancers, so early identification is finest.
  • Routine mammograms have been stated to unnecessarily convert hundreds of wholesome girls into most cancers sufferers. Ironically, those that survive usually credit score mammography for saving their lives by first figuring out most cancers—despite the fact that it could be ten instances extra probably the most cancers wouldn’t have ended up inflicting any issues. But, due to overdiagnosis, she might have undergone surgical procedure, radiation, and chemo anyway.

There is simply a lot confusion in relation to mammography, mixed with the corrupting business pursuits of a billion-dollar trade. As with any vital well being resolution, everybody needs to be totally knowledgeable of the dangers and advantages, and make up their very own thoughts about their very own our bodies. This is the eighth in my 14-part collection on mammograms, which incorporates:

For extra on breast most cancers, see my movies Oxidized Cholesterol 27HC May Explain Three Breast Cancer MysteriesEggs and Breast Cancerand Flashback Friday: Can Flax Seeds Help Prevent Breast Cancer?.

I used to be in a position to cowl colon most cancers screening in only one video. If you missed it, see Should We All Get Colonoscopies Starting at Age 50?.

Also on the subject of medical screenings, try Flashback Friday: Worth Getting an Annual Health Check-Up and Physical Exam?Is It Worth Getting Annual Health Check-Ups?, and Is It Worth Getting an Annual Physical Exam?.

In well being,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t but, you’ll be able to subscribe to my free movies right here and watch my reside shows:

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