Nearly 60 percent of women diagnosed and treated for stage 1 breast cancer detected by mammography never had breast cancer, according to a bombshell study published in The British Medical Journal
The implications of the latest and largest mammogram study to date are shocking and disturbing:
If you or a loved one has undergone surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy for stage 1 breast cancer detected by a mammogram, there’s a 60-percent chance it was all for nothing, according to a Dutch study of 8 million women.
The study, published in December, is the latest in a growing body of research indicating annual and biennial mammograms are not only useless, but dangerous, as they quite frequently result in invasive therapies for cancer that doesn’t exist.
Researchers from the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France used Dutch health records to evaluate the country’s breast cancer screening program, in which 80 percent of women between ages 50 and 75 received mammograms every other year between 1989 and 2012.
Over the 23-year-period, mammograms reduced breast cancer mortality between zero and 5 percent, the researchers concluded.
While mammograms didn’t do much to improve survival rates, they certainly “improved” diagnosis rates.
In the 23 years since mammograms became the norm in the country, the Netherlands experienced a threefold increase in the number of stage 1 breast cancer diagnoses, and a sixfold increase in the number of stage 0 breast cancer diagnoses.
The researchers estimated that 59 percent of stage 1 cancers, 33 percent of stage 0 cancers, and 52 percent of cancers of all stages, found using mammograms were cases of “over-diagnosis” — “that is, the number of breast cancers that never would have been detected during a woman’s lifetime in the absence of mammography screening.”
In other words, nearly 60 percent of women diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer are being treated for lumps that are either harmless or would have gone away on their own, had a mammogram not detected them.
The most common treatment for stage 1 breast cancer is surgery (lumpectomy or partial masectomy) followed by radiation, and chemo if the lump is larger than a centimeter, according to the American Cancer Society.
Over-diagnosis is continuously increasing with the invitation of older and older women to screening and “advanced” imaging technologies able to detect increasingly smaller breast tumors of little clinical importance, writes Philippe Autier, the study’s lead researcher and professor of epidemiology at the University of Strathclyde’s Institute of Global Public Health.
“I don’t think the accumulating data shows that continuing mammography screening is a good solution, essentially because the price to pay by women, in terms of over-diagnosis, is enormous,” Autier told Time magazine.
“We, and I include myself in the we, promoted mammography screening for plenty of good reasons then,” he says. “I am not glad at all that we found that mammography is probably not the ideal solution for protecting women from breast cancer. There is no good evidence that mammography makes a difference in mortality and if it does, it’s probably marginal. But the over-diagnosis toll is enormous.”
To make things worse, newer 3D mammogram technology exposes women to even more radiation, which in and of itself causes breast cancer.