Mammography- effective screening method?

So we’ve all heard about the chemicals, toxins, and carcinogens around us, which are known to be cancer-causing agents.  There’s increased risks associated with red meat and alcohol consumption; the dangers of breathing car exhaust and cigarette smoke, even incidentally.  These are only a few of the noted environmental factors that may contribute to the growth of cancer cells.  

But, one new issue I am reading about (and maybe I’m late on this bandwagon) is the risk inherent in mammograms themselves.  While health experts agree that catching a tumor in its early stages contributes to survival rates, is mammography the most effective screening method in the detection of breast cancer?  It is currently the standard method of breast cancer detection used today.  As far as its effectiveness, I’m not sure if it is the most effective screening tool, and here’s why: 

1) Mammograms boast a high error rate.  Statistics show that 70-80% of all positive mammograms end up not being cancerous after biopsy results. 

2) False negatives. According to Dr. Samuel S. Epstein in his book “The Politics of Cancer”, approximately one in four instances of cancer in women aged 40-49 is missed by mammography.  The National Cancer Institute actually places the false negative rate at 40% among women in the same age group.  That’s an incredibly high percentage of cancer that’s missed in the standard screenings.  

3) Radiation risks.  As with all x-rays, mammograms use doses of radiation to create an image, and then the image is analyzed for any abnormal growths.  Apparently, mammograms use a fairly high amount of radiation, and because of that it is developing some opposition in the medical community.

The National Cancer Institute has presented evidence that, for women under 35, mammography could cause 75 cases of breast cancer for every 15 it identifies. 

What’s the solution?  I’m not sure.  I’ve read that there are other options for detecting breast cancer.  Ultrasound technology, for one, which has shown favorable results in some ages and ethnicities.  Unfortunately, there may not be a “one size fits all” solution.   More about effective screening in future posts.

Thanks for reading!   

-M

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