Sunday, 19 February 2012

Are Mammograms Good for You?

I notice they’re running ads on tv here in New Zealand at the moment not only reminding women to get regular mammograms, but encouraging men to ensure the women in their lives get regular mammograms. I haven’t had a mammogram in several years, after asking to have my name removed from the national breast screening register. I’m just not convinced that blasting my breasts with toxic radiation every couple of years is a wise or healthy thing to do. I’m not alone.

I subscribe to several not-pharmaceutically-affiliated natural health email newsletters, and have had two cross my desk (actually my computer screen) this week with articles about mammograms. On Feb 14, Dr Mercola (of posted an article titled The Major Cause of Breast Cancer Almost Everyone Ignores. The title is a bit misleading because most of the article is about concern and corruption within the FDA over approval of radiographic screening devices that may put patients at risk of radiation overexposure and/or misdiagnosis.

However, the latter part of Dr Mercola’s article outlines several studies and books about the effects of mammography on women’s health, with some quotes that offer significant food for thought. For example:

“For every 2000 women invited for screening over the course of 10 years, just ONE woman will have her life prolonged. Meanwhile, 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed with cancer had it not been for the mammography screening will be misdiagnosed as having breast cancer and will be treated unnecessarily. Additionally, more than 200 women will experience significant psychological distress...due to false positives.”  (Mercola, based on Cochrane Summaries, April 2011) Hmmm...

And for women who are pre-menopausal:

“The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each rad exposure increasing the breast cancer risk by about 1%, with a cumulative 10% increase for each breast with a decade’s [annual] screenings.” (Dr. Samual Epstein, 1990’s) Although modern equipment means a single exposure may be only ¼ of a rad, the practice of taking up to four pictures of each breast can mean the total exposure for each screening exceeds 1 rad. (

The US and Canadian Preventative task forces, who have studied the evidence, now recommend women not undertake routine mammograms before the age of 50, and thereafter no more often than every two years. However, most cancer organisations continue to recommend routine screenings for the over-40’s and anyone else who might be ‘at risk’.

Meanwhile, over at, this week’s email included a link to Dawn Prate’s 2005 article “MammogramsCause Breast Cancer”. She shares:

“Since 1940, the incidence of breast cancer has risen by one to two percent every year.” Think about that. Although some researchers credit better detection, others believe radiation exposure from the mammogram itself is responsible.

“Dr John W. Gofman, an authority on the health effects of ionizing radiation, estimates that 75% of breast cancer could be prevented by avoiding or minimizing exposure to ionizing radiation. These include mammography, x-rays, and other medical and dental sources.”

“Since mammographic screening was introduced, the incidence of a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) has increased by 328%.”  And for those carrying one particular gene (oncogene AC) that is extremely susceptible to even very small doses of radiation, the risk of screening-caused breast cancer is huge.

Prates’s article ended with a long string of quotes from various sources which are insightful and sobering.

For me, I’ll continue doing regular self exams, but in spite of tv ads and Cancer Society recommendations, I have absolutely no intention of putting my healthy breast tissue into the squeeze machine for regular doses of unnecessary radiation. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

RIP David Servan-Schreiber--A Tribute to the Anti- Cancer Man

Dr David Servan-Schreiber passed away in July of last year. I’d previously read both of his remarkable books Healing Without Freud or Prozac and Anticancer: A New Way of Life, when I discovered his final book, Not the Last Goodbye, on the “new books” shelf in my local library a month or so ago. I am greatly saddened by his passing, but know he leaves behind a legacy of sound, practical approaches to general good health and has enhanced our understanding of cancer resistance and recovery in a way that no pharmaceutical company’s latest chemical marvel could begin to touch.

Servan-Schreiber, psychiatrist and neuro-science researcher, was first [ironically] diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1992 at the age of 31. He was told by his oncologist that not much could be done, and that such cancers are usually aggressive and fatal. Servan-Schreiber felt that such a defeatist attitude was not helpful, and felt sure that there was something he could do that would make a difference. As a researcher, he embarked on a personal project to explore cancer: its causes, its cures, and its prevention. And perhaps it comes as no surprise that he found diet, exercise, and meditation (or similar stress-reducing inward practices) are key components for cancer prevention and recovery. He tells the story himself here:

If the you tube video piques your interest but you don’t want to chase down his books, you might enjoy his 20 New Anticancer Rules (actually, I only count 19) in a brief blog for the Huffington Post. Good advice for healthy living for all of us:  enjoy your greens (veggies and tea), your browns (whole grains), your olive oil, your fish. Cut back on meats, potatoes, and especially sugar. Get some exercise (note from the above video: 30 minutes a day of brisk walking has the same remission effect for breast cancer as $50,000 worth of the wonder drug herceptin!), get some sunshine (without sunscreen!), learn to breathe and relax, and spread the love (in his words “Reach out and touch someone”).

David Servan-Schreiber died of a brain tumour 8 weeks after finishing Not the Last Goodbye, almost 20 years after the initial diagnoses of his aggressive, cancerous tumour. His survival defied all predictions. In his final book, he shares his coming to terms with the end of his life with a powerful and honest collection of thoughts and insights on his life, his research, his cancer, his career, the importance of healing our sick planet, religion, love, life, and laughter. It’s a little book with a big punch, a beautiful final gift from a man who will not be forgotten. Thank you, David.