Do Mammograms Cause Cancer?

by , under Breast Cancer, Contemporary Cancer Topics, Conventional Treatments

There are arguments on both sides of the issue.  On the one hand, doctors recommend that early detection of tumors gives a better chance at survival.  But others say that the mammogram is dosing the patient with radiation.  It would appear that the scientific studies are inconclusive.  In the final analysis, it is a personal, individual decision that each person has to make.  But it should be an informed decision where the person has both sides of the story.

From the conventional perspective, it makes sense to get as early a diagnosis of breast cancer as possible.  This gives the medical professionals more time to fight the cancer.  It gives the patient advanced information that can enable her to take action against the cancer.  It is said that the earlier the cancer is found, the better the chance for survival.  It is believed that mammograms reduce mortality from breast cancer.  They say that the risk of a false positive test result is worth the risk because of the saved lives.

Mammography critics say that the mammography process itself can spread cancer if the patient has it.  The manipulation of the breast during the procedure would tend to release more cancer cells that can metastasize.  It is important to realize that the mammography uses x-rays to image the breast.  X-rays have been shown to cause cancer, but mammography proponents claim that it is worth the risk because of the lives saved with screening.  Most proponents of mammography think that it should only be conducted on women over 40 because of the higher risks associated with irradiating premenopausal women.

Some clinical studies have found reduction of breast cancer mortality of up to 20%, but the highest quality studies have found no reduction of mortality.  Even when mammograms are performed, they must be confirmed with other techniques of cancer identification, such as physical examination, PET (positron emission mammography), ultrasound, ductography, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).  Mammograms have been known to have a false negative rate of 10-30%, and a false positive rate is around 7%.  Both diagnostic errors can have negative psychological effects on women.

In summary, it appears that mass screening of women with mammography offers small benefit.  To date, I haven’t seen any solid evidence that demonstrates that the mass screening of women for breast cancer with mammography is something that can significantly reduce breast cancer mortality.  But if it is something that you and your doctor think can be beneficial, then it is something that you should do.

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