Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cause and Effect or Cause and Detect?

The recent mammogram controversy has me disgusted. For years women have been told to get mammograms as often as humanly possible. Better safe than sorry, right? If you have breast cancer, you want to know about it as early as possible so you can begin life-saving treatments.

I know there are thousands of breast cancer survivors out there who are grateful that a mammogram detected their cancer early enough to afford them the time to treat it. But based on recent findings, I have to wonder how often mammograms cause cancer before they can detect it.

Now the guidelines have conveniently changed*, and women are supposed to have fewer mammograms for a host of compelling reasons, not least of which is the fact that the mammogram delivers a huge dose of radiation directly into the body.

How’s that for health and wellness? How can the medical industry justify a test that may cause the very disease it’s designed to treat? Are there acceptable losses in the battle against cancer? Are the detrimental effects of the test negligible when compared to the number of lives saved? So you get cancer – it’s okay. With a few rounds of debilitating chemotherapy, we can cure you. Sometimes.

I’m not sure I like the odds.

I’ve had a mammography. One. I know for many women it’s a painful experience, and for others just mildly uncomfortable. I fall into the second category. It wasn’t a picnic, but it was something I could handle if I had to do it again. The question I’m struggling with is, will I?

So far, the answer is no.

I’m researching the effects of mammograms and I don’t like what I’m finding. Sure, being able to detect cancer in its early stages is a great boon to modern medicine, but being able to prevent it all together is the miracle we’re looking for. I’m wondering, is it wiser to stay away from tests that have the potential to cause harm, or to risk that harm in order to get a head start on treating a too often deadly disease?

You tell me. Is the risk we are finding now associated with mammograms worth it? Are we doing all we can to protect ourselves from cancer or are we just lining up to be customers in the multi-billion dollar cancer industry which will crumble if people actually find a way to stop getting sick?

*If you follow health news, you may notice the guidelines have flip-flopped again. So how do we really know who to trust?


  1. Good questions. I can see how people with a family history of a disease or condition might be more inclined to undergo tests with risks.

  2. That's the thing - the guidelines are even tighter for people with a family, which I can understand, but then, do the tests predispose them to an even greater risk beyond what they already have?

  3. Just wanted to jump in here - I had my annual exam at the OB/GYN office yesterday, and I asked this very question.

    According to the APN who saw me, she had heard the same thing and she was still going to get a mammogram done every year, even without a family history of breast cancer. She said the amount of radiation is less than in a dental x-ray. She also said that if you wait even once every 2 years, by the time you get in for that mammogram you could have pretty advanced cancer.

    As I have a family history of it (my grandmother on my father's side died of breast cancer that metastasized to her spine), I guess I'll keep getting one every year, at least for now. Until something else comes along to scare and alarm us. :P