What we think we know about the BRCA (Breast Cancer Susceptibility Associated) genes causing cancer is patently false, according to a new meta-analysis on the extant literature on the subject of these gene variations on breast cancer survival prognosis.
A groundbreaking meta-analysis published in PLoS titled,”Worse Breast Cancer Prognosis of BRCA1/BRCA2 Mutation Carriers: What’s the Evidence? A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis“, calls into question the value of using BRCA1/2 gene status to determine breast cancer survival prognosis, as is common practice today. This implications of this research may have wide-ranging effects as the present climate, following Angelina Jolie’s high profile decision to have prophylactic breast, ovary and fallopian tube removed due to her perceived “genetic inheritance,” is to equate BRCA status with bona fide and mathematically calculable disease risk certainty.
Jolie’s decision to subject herself to multiple prophylactic organ removal was based on the premise that her BRCA mutations would result in an 87 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to 54 percent chance of ovarian cancer, as prognosticated by her doctors. The notion that BRCA genes have full or near full penetrance (the ability of a mutation to cause clinically identifiable disease) has profound implications for the health of millions of women who rely on these predictions to make life and death medical decisions.
Because of a wide range of conflicting conclusions on the subject of BRCA’s role in determining cancer risk and prognosis, researchers in the new study attempted a systematic and quantitative synthesis of evidence using the following method:
“Eligible publications were observational studies assessing the survival of breast cancer patients carrying a BRCA1/2 mutation compared to non-carriers or the general breast cancer population. We performed meta-analyses and best-evidence syntheses for survival outcomes taking into account study quality assessed by selection bias, misclassification bias and confounding.”
They summarized their findings:
“Our review shows that, in contrast to currently held beliefs of many oncologists and despite 66 published studies, it is not yet possible to draw evidence-based conclusions about the association between BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 mutation carriership and breast cancer prognosis. We only found sufficient evidence for a 10% worse unadjusted recurrence-free survival for BRCA1 mutation carriers. For all the other outcomes the evidence was judged to be indecisive.”
In their concluding remarks, the researchers state, “In contrast to currently held beliefs of some oncologists, current evidence does not support worse breast cancer survival of BRCA1/2 mutation carriers in the adjuvant setting; differences if any are likely to be small. More well-designed studies are awaited.”
In order to fully appreciate the implications of these findings one must understand the difference between using breast cancer diagnosis and breast cancer survival as a study end-point. Breast cancer is highly overdiagnosed and overtreated, with recent estimates indicating that about 1.3 million US women were wrongly diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in the past 30 years. And so, previous studies on BRCA1/2 gene variations and the incidence of breast cancer have not taken this massive statistical inflation of non-cancerous “breast cancer diagnoses” into account, further feeding the illusion that having an identified BRCA mutation equates to having a inexorably higher risk of a deadly cancer, when in fact, in cases where BRCA was linked to so-called early stage or ‘stage zero’ lesions such as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), this condition was recently determined to be intrinsically benign by a NCI-commissioned expert panel and therefore should not be lumped together with other truly deadly forms of breast cancer, as is still common practice today despite the growing body of evidence against it.
The same goes with BRCA-linked ovarian tumors, such as Borderline Ovarian Tumors (BOTs), which are also benign and highly overdiagnosed and overtreated. In fact, a JAMA study found that 5 times more women are diagnosed and treated with ovarian cancer than actually have it — indicating a massive problem that is not being taken into account by most literature on the role of BRCA mutations in cancer risk because these studies accept diagnosed cancer uncritically as actual cancer which is simply not the case due to the still largely unaccounted for issue of overdiagnosis. Furthermore, prophylactic removal of the ovaries before age 45 (Jolie is 39) has been linked to 67% increased mortality risk, according to a 2006 study published in Lancet Oncology, indicating that organ removal as a generic form of “cancer prevention” may be doing the opposite of ‘saving lives’ as widely claimed.
And so, what do we take away from this? First, BRCA gene status, based on this recent extensive meta-analysis on the topic, does not necessarily determine your health destiny when it comes to breast (or ovarian) cancer survival. The study found at best, sufficient evidence for a 10% worse unadjusted recurrence-free survival for BRCA1 mutation carriers, but nothing like the oft-quoted ‘personalized estimate’ of an 87% increase in mortality Jolie received from her doctors and which now many women think is far more common than is the case.
“BRCA1 variation K1 183R is related inversely to cancer risk, leading the authors of a review on the topic titled, “The case against BRCA1 and 2 testing,” to conclude: “It seems that some polymorphisms may actually have a protective effect.”
And therefore, what do we really understand about BRCA gene ‘mutations’ when there are over 500 that have been identified, and whose complexity and role in health and disease are still not yet understood? The truth is that the linear and deterministic gene > trait > disease risk/prognosis way of thinking is archaic, and reflects the type of hubris that should have been sloughed off after the first draft of the human genome project in 2005 found that the ‘holy grail’ of molecular biology was not to be found in the genome, but in the interstitial space of its interactions with the myriad factors ‘beyond the control of the gene,’ the realm of epigenetics, which involves everything from the food your mother ate, your in utero exposures, to your breast feeding duration, the toxins and toxicants you were and are exposed to, your way of thinking, attitudes and beliefs and the downstream physiological effects they have, ad infinitum.
Ironically, the notion that genes determine destiny is more than just an idea but a reality for those who believe it and act on the meme, putting ideology into practice in their biology and medical decisions. This is why acknowledging the research that calls into question biological determinism and medical fatalism is so powerful and why we hope our readers continue to explore the primary literature itself as it expands and transforms the often out-dated knowledge base that conventional practice is still under the illusion is reflective of the truth.
When conventional cancer medicine fails to produce positive outcomes, a humble little seed comes to the rescue.
A new study published in the International Journal of Oncology illustrates an important shift occurring in medical research today, namely, a growing recognition that conventional treatments like chemotherapy, taken alone, are failing to produce positive results and that the use of natural substances may be an indispensable way to improve outcomes.
They also noted that a commonly used cancer drug known as doxorubicin is notorious for its many side effects. You can review the primary literature on dozens of doxorubicin’s known side effects on our database. The researchers hypothesized that one way around this problem would be to reduce the amount of doxorubicin used by combining it with a safer, more natural compound.
In a previous study, the researchers showed a phenolic extract of flaxseed oil resulted in a number of chemotherapeutic effects (increase in apoptosis, G0/G1 phase cell cycle, and the activation of signaling and pro‑oxidant pathways). The new study looked at the combined effect of doxorubicin and a phenolic extract of flaxseed oil on two different breast cancer cell lines, focusing on what conditions are ideal for using lower doses doxorubicin. They reported the experiment a success:
“We report the data relating to the ability of this mixture to induce cytotoxicity and apoptosis, cell cycle modification, mitochondrial membrane depolarization and activation of extrinsic and/or intrinsic apoptotic pathway.”
While this only a preliminary investigation, and does not have the gravitas of a human clinical trial, flaxseed has been subject to extensive research on its chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic properties. We’re reported on this in depth in previous articles, such as:
There is a profound shift occurring in the medical research community today. With the growing awareness that food is not just a source of energy and material building blocks for the body, but capable of being a form of medicinal or nutrigenomic information, it is no longer considered far fetched to look at something as commonplace, and benign as flaxseed as having disease-resolving power.
For more information on natural substances that may be of value in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Use our Cancer database on the topic to search thousands of studies.
A study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention indicates that women who are long-term users of statin drugs have between 83-143% increased risk of breast cancer.
The population-based case-control study utilized data from women in the Seattle-Puget Sound region, which included 916 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and 1,068 invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) cases of 55-74 years of age diagnosed between 2000 and 2008, and a control of 902 women.
Whereas recent publicity on statin drugs has focused on their potential use for cancer prevention or as anti-cancer agents, this study found exactly the opposite with current users of statins for 10 years or longer having a 1.83-fold increased risk of invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and a 1.97-fold increased risk of invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) compared to never users of statins.
Additionally, among women diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia, a condition marked by high levels of lipids and lipoproteins in the blood, current users of statins for 10 years or longer had more than double the risk of both IDC [an average of 104% increased risk] and ILC [an average of 143% increased risk] compared to never users.
Of course, the discovery of a correlation between higher statin drug use and higher breast cancer risk does not necessarily imply causation. For instance, women who are on statins are obviously compliant with conventional blood lipid screening recommendations and therefore are more likely to be complaint with breast screening guidelines as well. Given that recent estimates show that breast screenings have resulted in over 1.3 million US women being misdiagnosed and overtreated for breast cancer in the past 30 years, simply being complaint with breast screening guidelines will result in significantly increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer regardless of whether the diagnosis is accurate or not. 
On the other hand, this study could indicate a more serious problem, namely, that cholesterol-lowering drugs and statin drugs in particular are carcinogenic. Statin drugs, in fact, have long been suspected to increase the risk of certain cancers, including prostate, colorectal, and kidney; conversely, low cholesterol has been found to increase the risk of cancer at all sites, further implicating these cholesterol-lowering agents as possible carcinogens.[i]
At the least, this new study raises doubt as to whether the recent push to identify statin drugs as possible chemopreventive or chemotherapeutic agents can be validated by independent science, especially considering that this class of cholesterol-lowering medications have been linked to over 300 adverse health effects in the published literature.
This latest finding is all the more reason why natural dietary and nutritional interventions should be considered a first line defense against elevated blood lipids, and why the very question of whether cholesterol is a primary contributing factor in heart disease should be examined more carefully.
A new study finds vitamin D — the ‘sunlight vitamin’ — strikes to the very heart of breast cancer malignancy.
Breast cancer is not what most people think. Beneath the intimidating statistics that make it seem like a juggernaut of inevitability or a time bomb of genetic determinism ready to go off in the asymptomatic breasts of millions of women, a far more complex conversation is occurring among clinicians and researchers concerning the true nature and causes of cancer, and why conventional therapies fail to turn the tide against the second highest cause of death in the Western world. To fully appreciate this, one must go to the first hand research itself.
For instance, a new study published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology identifies an overlooked root cause of breast cancer (cancer stem cells), as well as a natural intervention that has yet to be incorporated into the conventional standard of cancer care.
Titled, “Vitamin D compounds reduce mammosphere formation and decrease expression of putative stem cell markers in breast cancer,” the new study brings to the forefront the role of breast cancer stem cells (BSCs) in breast tumor formation and their progression towards malignancy and treatment resistance. For many decades it was assumed that cancer results from DNA-damaged cells succumbing to fundamentally chaotic processes, ‘going rogue’ and reproducing clonally (making identical copies of one another), without an acknowledgment of the different types of cells that comprise tumors. The most salient difference is between the cancer stem cells (sometimes referred to as ‘mother’ cells) which are capable of theoretically infinite self-renewal and produce all the differentiated ‘daughter’ cells in a tumor colony, which themselves are not capable of living indefinitely. It is actually the existence of the much smaller number of cancer stem cells which causes cancer recurrence, as they are not only resistant to conventional chemotherapy and radiation, but their numbers can actually be increased (enriched) by these two ‘therapies.’ Therefore, any cancer therapy that ignores the cancer stem cell subpopulation in favor of killing the non-tumorigenic daughter cells in order to ‘debulk’ the tumor (i.e. shrink it), will not result in destroying the root of the cancer. To the contrary, it can generate the illusion of ‘remission’ while in fact making the remaining tumor colony far more malignant, setting up the conditions for aggressive recurrence years later.
The new study sought to determine whether vitamin D3 and an analog known as BXL0124 are capable of inhibiting the progression of DCIS to IDC, and whether this effect is mediated through an influence on breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs). The study used a mammosphere cell culture system, which is a clump of mammary gland cells that includes breast cancer stem cells along with non-stem cell breast cells.
The researchers found that when the Vitamin D compounds were administered to the mammosphere culture it was observed to undergo a transition from a state of disorganization and irregularity in shape to a more organized and symmetrical shape similar to spheres formed by a non-malignant, normal mammary epithelial cell line. This cancer-defying effect of the vitamin D compounds was described in terms of a reduction in the so-called ‘mammosphere forming efficiency (MFE).” Moreover, treatment with vitamin D compounds was found to repress cell markers associated with stem cell-like phenotype (e.g. CD44, CD49f,c-Notch1, andpNFkB), as well as pluripotency markers (e.g. OCT4 and KLF-4), another property found within cancer stem cells.
The study concluded:
“Cancer progression, metastasis, and recurrence are significant problems in managing breast cancer. A significant body of evidence indicates that breast cancer stem cells drive these processes, complicating treatment strategies. A better understanding of how BCSCs drive breast cancer progression will aid in developing targeted therapies toward BCSCs. Our present study suggests a potential treatment strategy to reduce the putative BCSC population, and therefore enhance the effectiveness of breast cancer prevention and treatment through the use of vitamin D compounds.” [emphasis added]
Regardless of whether DCIS or ICS really do represent a mortal threat to the health and lives of women, this study indicates that vitamin D targets the most malignant cell type found within breast cancer — the cancer stem cells — which is infinitely more selective an intervention than radiation and chemotherapy; nor does vitamin D have the profoundly damaging side effects of conventional cancer treatment.
Vitamin D, of course, is designed to be manufactured through the ultraviolet B-stimulated conversion of the cholesterol metabolite 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin. The fact that in the modern era the breasts are never exposed to sunlight and that generally speaking adequate sunlight exposure (especially considering the over-use of vitamin-D blocking and carcinogenic petroleum-based sunscreens) is rare, it is likely that many of the variations in breast morphology increasingly being diagnosed through technologies like mammography as being ‘abnormal’ or ‘precancerous,’ directly reflect a deficiency of sunlight and Vitamin D. While the U.S. Preventive Task Force does not believe there is enough evidence supporting the benefit of vitamin D screening in routine practice, there is no harm in getting a blood test to determine one’s levels relative to the background population. And since vitamin D3 supplementation is affordable and extremely safe relative to commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals like Tamoxifen (a known carcinogen), it may provide those at risk for breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence with a reasonable alternative to watchful waiting and/or preventive chemotherapy.
For additional research on risk factors for breast cancer stem cell enrichment, as well as natural substances found to kill them, take a look at our database page on the topic: Breast Cancer Stem Cells, as well as the larger database section on Cancer Stem Cells in general.
Millions of women undergo mammograms annually, but few are even remotely aware of just how many dangers they are exposing themselves to in the name of prevention, not the least of which are misdiagnosis, overdiagnosis and the promotion of breast cancer itself.
The study found that women with false-positive diagnoses of breast cancer, even three years after being declared free of cancer, “consistently reported greater negative psychosocial consequences compared with women who had normal findings in all 12 psychosocial outcomes.”
What is even more concerning is that “[S]ix months after final diagnosis, women with false-positive findings reported changes in existential values and inner calmness as great as those reported by women with a diagnosis of breast cancer.”
In other words, even after being “cleared of cancer,” the measurable adverse psychospiritual effects of the trauma of diagnosis were equivalent to actually having breast cancer.
Given that the cumulative probability of false-positive recall or biopsy recommendation after 10 years of screening mammography is at least 50%, this is an issue that will affect the health of millions of women undergoing routine breast screening.
The Curse of False Diagnosis and ‘Bone-Pointing’
Also, we must be cognizant of the fact that these observed ‘psychosocial’ and ‘existential’ adverse effects don’t just cause some vaguely defined ‘mental anguish,’ but translate into objectively quantifiable physiological consequences of a dire nature.
For instance, last year, a groundbreaking study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that, based on data on more than 6 million Swedes aged 30 and older, the risk of suicide was found to be up to 16 times higher and the risk of heart-related death up to 26.9 times higher during the first week following a positive versus a negative cancer diagnosis.
This was the first study of its kind to confirm that the trauma of diagnosis can result in, as the etymology of the Greek word trauma reveals, a “physical wound.” In the same way as Aborigonal cultures had a ‘ritual executioner’ or ‘bone pointer’ known as a Kurdaitcha who by pointing a bone at a victim with the intention of cursing him to death, resulting in the actual self-willed death of the accursed, so too does the modern ritual of medicine reenact ancient belief systems and power differentials, with the modern physician, whether he likes it or not, a ‘priest of the body.’; we must only look to the well-known dialectic of the placebo and nocebo effects to see these powerful, “irrational” processes still operative.
Millions Harmed by Breast Screening Despite Assurances to the Contrary
Research of this kind clearly indicates that the conventional screening process carries health risks, both to body and mind, which may outstrip the very dangers the medical surveillance believes itself responsible for, and effective at, mitigating. For instance, according to a groundbreaking study published last November in New England Journal of Medicine, 1.3 million US women were overdiagnosed and overtreated over the past 30 years. These are the ‘false positives’ that were never caught, resulting in the unnecessary irradiation, chemotherapy poisoning and surgery of approximately 43,000 women each year. Now, when you add to this dismal statistic the millions of ‘false positives’ that while being caught nevertheless resulted in producing traumas within those women, breast screening begins to look like a veritable nightmare of iatrogenesis.
And this does not even account for the radiobiological dangers of the x-ray mammography screening process itself, which may be causing an epidemic of mostly unackowledged radiation-induced breast cancers in exposed populations.
For instance, in 2006, a paper published in the British Journal of Radiobiology, titled “Enhanced biological effectiveness of low energy X-rays and implications for the UK breast screening programme,” revealed the type of radiation used in x-ray-based breast screenings is much more carcinogenic than previously believed:
Recent radiobiological studies have provided compelling evidence that the low energy X-rays as used in mammography are approximately four times – but possibly as much as six times – more effective in causing mutational damage than higher energy X-rays. Since current radiation risk estimates are based on the effects of high energy gamma radiation, this implies that the risks of radiation-induced breast cancers for mammography X-rays are underestimated by the same factor.
Even the breast cancer treatment protocols themselves have recently been found to contribute to enhancing cancer malignancy and increasing mortality. Chemotherapy and radiation both appear to enrich the cancer stem cell populations, which are at the root of breast cancer malignancy and invasiveness. Last year, in fact, the prestigious journal Cancer, a publication of the American Cancer Society, published a study performed by researchers from the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center showing that even when radiation kills half of the tumor cells treated, the surviving cells which are resistant to treatment, known as induced breast cancer stem cells (iBCSCs), were up to 30 times more likely to form tumors than the nonirradiated breast cancer cells. In other words, the radiation treatment regresses the total population of cancer cells, generating the false appearance that the treatment is working, but actually increases the ratio of highly malignant to benign cells within that tumor, eventually leading to the iatrogenic (treatment-induced) death of the patient.
What we are increasingly bearing witness to in the biomedical literature itself is that the conventional breast cancer prevention and treatment strategy and protocols are bankrupt. Or, from the perspective of the more cynical observer, it is immensely successful, owing to the fact that it is driving billions of dollars or revenue by producing more of what it claims to be fighting.
The time has come for a radical transformation in the way that we understand, screen for, prevent and treat cancer. It used to be that natural medical advocates didn’t have the so-called peer-reviewed ‘evidence’ to back up their intuitive and/or anecdotal understanding of how to keep the human body in health and balance. That time has passed. GreenMedInfo.com, for instance, has over 20,000 abstracts indexed in support of a return to a medical model where the ‘alternative’ is synthetic, invasive, emergency-modeled medicine, and the norm is using food, herbs, minerals, vitamins and lifestyle changes to maintain, promote and regain optimal health.
Research by investigators at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, in West Virginia, suggests that regularly eating a few ounces of walnuts could significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer in women .
For their initial study, the university research team compared instances of breast cancer in several groups of laboratory mice that were genetically modified to be born predisposed to developing breast cancer.
All of the mice in the study’s experimental groups received the human equivalent of roughly two ounces of walnuts per day. Mice in certain experimental groups were also nursed from mothers who were fed this same walnut-fortified diet, before starting the diet themselves. Otherwise, mice in each of the groups were fed a standardized diet that was identical to that of the walnut-free control group, with the exception that small adjustments were made to ensure total fat intake remained consistent, regardless of walnut consumption.
Mice in both walnut-fortified test groups (pre and postnatal, and postnatal only) showed reduced instance of breast cancer. The mice that were fed walnuts starting at birth, showed nearly a 50 percent decrease in overall cancer formation, as compared to the walnut-deprived control group. Furthermore, instances of tumor formation that did occur within this group were observed to be smaller and less severe, on average, than those found in the other test groups.
After observing such strong improvements in those groups that regularly fed on walnuts, particularly those that received walnut micronutrients intravenously before birth, the Marshall University research team further investigated the source of these beneficial cancer-fighting properties.
Benefits of Walnuts Greater Than Previously Thought
Walnuts are often cited as being a rich source of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids; both are well-known for their ability to help lower the risk of many types of cancer. Still, the reductions in instances of breast cancer they observed in their test mice go well beyond those generally associated with omega-3.
What could account for this dramatic change? Dr. Elaine Hardman, lead author of the study, said further investigation revealed that walnut consumption appeared to have a direct effect on multiple genes believed to be connected with breast cancer in mammals, including mice and humans.
Additional investigation with humans will still be needed before the connection between walnuts and breast cancer is fully understood. However, the possible benefits of their consumption should be enough to encourage us (especially those who are expecting a new baby) to eat and enjoy them as a regular part of our diet. Walnuts should always be eaten raw and from a certified organic source.
Mammograms are in the news again, and it doesn’t look good for those who continue to advocate using them to “detect cancer early” in asymptomatic populations. The science increasingly runs directly counter to the screening guidelines produced by both governmental and nongovernmental health organizations claiming to be advocates for women’s health.
Remember that the New England Journal of Medicine published a shocking analysis of the past 30 years of breast screening in the US, finding that 1.3 million women were overdiagnosed and overtreated for breast cancer – euphemisms for misdiagnosed and mistreated.1
This finding, released cunningly from scientific embargo to the media was so devastating in its implications that many either did not understand its meaning, or could not bear to accept the truth that the quarter of a century clarion call of breast cancer awareness month – get your annual mammogram or lose your life! – caused more unnecessary suffering, pain and harm to women than it is possible to calculate. The only calculable dimension of this world-historical failure is the billions of dollars that were made in the process of converting healthy, asymptomatic women into “patients”, and if fortunate enough to make it through treatment, “survivors”.
Now, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, finds that those women who follow the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer, namely, annual screening for women 40 or older, are not only receiving no additional protection against aggressive breast cancer, but are experiencing greater harm through increased rates of false positives and unnecessary biopsies.
Researchers examined the records of over 140,000 women ages 66 to 89 who had mammograms between 1999 and 2006. They found that women who had more frequent mammograms (every year versus every two years) did not have a reduced risk of being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, as would be expected if mammograms actually were working to “find deadly breast cancer early” as widely claimed. Even after researchers adjusted for confounding factors such as age, place of residence and race, they found no benefit to more frequent screenings.
More concerning, the researchers found that the more times women were screened the greater their odds of getting “false positives” on mammograms. As reported by the LA Times:
For example, among women between the ages of 66 and 74 who already had health problems, 48% of those who had annual mammograms had at least one false-positive reading during a 10-year period. But among those who were screened every other year, only 29% had a false-positive result.
And among women between the ages of 75 and 89 with preexisting health problems, 48.4% of those screened every year had at least one false-positive reading during a 10-year span, compared with only 27.4% of those who had less frequent tests.“
The LA Times article went on to estimate that if all American women between 66-89 had annual mammograms instead of biannual ones, this would result in 3.86 million more false-positives and 1.15 million more recommendations for biopsies.
These statistics obviously do not account for how many of these over-diagnosed and over-biopsied women in this study ended up being unnecessarily treated for abnormal breast findings such as ductal carcinoma in situ, which would never have progressed to cause them harm. It does however, show just how dangerous and inaccurate breast mammography can be.
Another “invisible” problem is the fact that the so-called “low-energy” radiation wavelengths used in breast mammography are far more carcinogenic than “high energy” waves to which they are compared. This means that x-ray mammography is planting the seeds of future radiation-induced breast cancer into millions of women, all in the name of “prevention” and “awareness.”
I’ve written many articles on the hazards and drawbacks of getting a mammogram, which include:
• The risk of false positives. Besides leading to unnecessary mental anguish and medical treatment, a false cancer diagnosis may also interfere with your eligibility for medical insurance, which can have serious financial ramifications
• The risk of false negatives, which is of particular concern for dense-breasted women
• The fact that ionizing radiation actually causes cancer and may contribute to breast cancer when done over a lifetime.
Results published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) show that women carrying the BRCA1/2 gene mutation are particularly vulnerable to radiation-induced cancer1
As so expertly demonstrated in the video above, created by Dr. Andrew Lazris and environmental scientist, Erik Rifkin, Ph.D., it’s easy to misunderstand the benefits of mammograms.
Mammograms are said to reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer by 20 percent, but unless you understand where this number comes from, you’ll be vastly overestimating the potential benefit of regular mammogram screening.
Most doctors also fail to inform patients about the other side of the equation, which is that far more women are actually harmed by the procedure than benefit from it.
1 in 1,000 Women Is Saved by Regular Mammogram Screening While 10 Undergo Cancer Treatment for No Reason
Incredible as it may sound, the 20 percent mortality risk reduction touted by conventional medicine actually amounts to just 1 woman per 1,000 who get regular mammograms. How can that be?
As explained in the video, for every 1,000 women who do not get mammograms, 5 of them will die of breast cancer. For every 1,000 women who do get mammograms, 4 will die anyway.
The difference between the two groups is 20 percent (the difference of that one person in the mammogram group whose life is saved). On the other side of the equation, out of every 1,000 women who get regular mammograms over a lifetime:
HALF will receive a false positive. So while they do NOT have cancer, about 500 out of every 1,000 women getting mammograms will face the terror associated with a breast cancer diagnosis
64 will get biopsies, which can be painful and carry risks of adverse effects
10 will go on to receive cancer treatment for what is in actuality NOT cancer, including disfiguring surgery and toxic drugs or radiation. Surgery, chemo and radiation are all risky, and dying from the treatment for a cancer you do not have is doubly tragic
All things considered, the evidence seems quite clear; most women should probably avoid mammograms, as they cause far more harm than good.
Many studies have now come to that conclusion, and the most recent research,2 published just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, again hammers home that point.
Harms of Mammography Eclipse Benefits
For this study, the researchers analyzed U.S. cancer statistics collected by the government in order to estimate the effectiveness of mammography.
By comparing records of breast cancers diagnosed in women over the age of 40 between 1975 and 1979 — a time before mammograms came into routine use — and between 2000 and 2002, three key findings emerged.3,4,5,6,7,8
The incidence of large tumors (2 centimeters or larger) has declined, from 68 percent to 32 percent
The number of women diagnosed with small tumors has increased, from 36 to 64 percent
The incidence of metastatic cancer, which is the most lethal, has remained stable
This may initially sound like good news for mammograms, but in absolute numbers, the decrease in large tumors was actually rather small — a mere 30 tumors less per 100,000 women.
Meanwhile, the dramatic increase in small tumors was mostly attributed to overdiagnosis — an estimated 81 percent of these small tumors did not actually need treatment.
The fact that metastatic cancer rates remained even suggests we’re not catching more of them, earlier. Instead, we’re catching and treating mostly harmless tumors.
The researchers also found that two-thirds of the reduction in breast cancer mortality was attributable to improved treatment, such as the use of tamoxifen. Breast cancer screening only accounted for one-third of the reduction in mortality.
Lead researcher Dr. H.Gilbert Welch explains the findings of the study in the video above. As reported by WebMD:9
“The upshot, according to Welch, is that mammography is more likely to ‘overdiagnose’ breast cancer than to catch more-aggressive tumors early. What’s more, the researchers said that while breast cancer deaths have fallen since the 1970s, that is mainly due to better treatment — not screening.
Welch noted the current study’s findings have nothing to do with women who feel a lump in the breast. ‘They need to get a mammogram,’ he stressed. But, Welch suggested, when it comes to routine screening, women can decide based on their personal values.”
Screening as Personal Choice
When speaking to NBC news, Welch went on to say that “screening is a choice. It’s not a public health imperative.”10 At present, most conventional cancer specialists do view mammograms as an imperative, although recommendations vary depending on who you listen to.
As of last year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women of average risk should have their first mammogram at age 45, followed by an annual mammogram up until age 55. Women 55 and older should have them every other year.11
Meanwhile, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends waiting until the age of 50, and only getting a mammogram every other year thereafter.12 In response to heated debate over the varying guidelines, the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring insurance companies to cover mammograms regardless of age.
Not surprisingly, the ACS has sharply criticized the latest study. In a statement, chief cancer control officer of ACS, Dr. Richard Wender, said: “These conclusions are bold, attention-grabbing and should be taken with a grain of salt — actually, an entire spoonful.”
The problem with Wender’s attitude is that this is by no means the first or only study suggesting that mammography has been vastly oversold. In fact, a number of studies have now refuted the validity of mammography as a primary tool against breast cancer.
The Evidence Overwhelmingly Refutes Routine Use of Mammography
Other studies that support the findings of the featured study include the following:
✓ Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007: A meta-analysis of 117 randomized, controlled mammogram trials. Among its findings: Rates of false-positive results are as high as 56 percent after 10 mammograms.13
✓ Cochrane Database Review, 2009: This review found that breast cancer screening led to a 30 percent rate of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which actually INCREASED the absolute risk of developing cancer by 0.5 percent.
The review concluded that for every 2,000 women invited for screening throughout a 10-year period, the life of just one woman was prolonged, while 10 healthy women were treated unnecessarily.14
✓ New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 2010: This study concluded that the reduction in mortality as a result of mammographic screening was so small as to be nonexistent — a mere 2.4 deaths per 100,000 person-years were spared as a result of the screening.15
✓ The Lancet Oncology, 2011: This study described the natural history of breast cancers detected in the Swedish mammography screening program between 1986 to 1990, involving 650,000 women.
Since breast lesions and tumors are aggressively treated and/or removed before they can be determined with any certainty to be a clear and present threat to health, there has been little to no research on what happens when they are left alone.
This study however, demonstrated for the first time that women who received the most breast screenings had a HIGHER cumulative incidence of invasive breast cancer over the following six years than the control group who received far less screenings.16
✓ The Lancet, 2012, showed that for every life saved by mammography screening, three women are overdiagnosed and treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy for a cancer that might never have given them trouble in their lifetimes.17
✓ Cochrane Database Review, 2013: A review of 10 trials involving more than 600,000 women found mammography screening had no effect on overall mortality.18
✓ NEJM, 2014: Drs. Nikola Biller-Andorno and Peter Jüni published a paper in which they describe the findings of an independent health technology assessment initiative to assess the effectiveness of mammography, of which they were a part:19
“First, we noticed that the ongoing debate was based on a series of reanalyses of the same, predominantly outdated trials … Could the modest benefit of mammography screening in terms of breast-cancer mortality that was shown in trials initiated between 1963 and 1991 still be detected in a trial conducted today?
Second, we were struck by how nonobvious it was that the benefits of mammography screening outweighed the harms.
The relative risk reduction of approximately 20 percent in breast-cancer mortality associated with mammography that is currently described by most expert panels came at the price of a considerable diagnostic cascade, with repeat mammography, subsequent biopsies and overdiagnosis of breast cancers — cancers that would never have become clinically apparent …
Third, we were disconcerted by the pronounced discrepancy between women’s perceptions of the benefits of mammography screening and the benefits to be expected in reality.
The figure shows the numbers of 50-year-old women in the United States expected to be alive, to die from breast cancer, or to die from other causes if they are invited to undergo regular mammography every [two] years over a 10-year period, as compared with women who do not undergo mammography …
The Swiss Medical Board’s report was made public on February 2, 2014.20 It acknowledged that systematic mammography screening might prevent about one death attributed to breast cancer for every 1,000 women screened, even though there was no evidence to suggest that overall mortality was affected.
At the same time, it emphasized the harm — in particular, false positive test results and the risk of overdiagnosis … The board therefore recommended that no new systematic mammography screening programs be introduced and that a time limit be placed on existing programs.
In addition, it stipulated that the quality of all forms of mammography screening should be evaluated and that clear and balanced information should be provided to women regarding the benefits and harms of screening.”
✓ British Medical Journal (BMJ), 2014: A Canadian study put the rate of overdiagnosis and overtreatment from mammography at nearly 22 percent.21
✓ JAMA Internal Medicine, July 2015: Here, researchers concluded mammography screenings lead to unnecessary treatments while having virtually no impact on the number of deaths from breast cancer. A positive correlation between breast cancer screening and breast cancer incidence was indeed found, but there was no positive correlation with mortality.22,23
✓ Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, September 2015: The conclusion of this study is stated right in the title, which reads: “Mammography screening is harmful and should be abandoned.”24,25
In short, the authors concluded that decades of routine breast cancer screening using mammograms has done nothing to decrease deaths from breast cancer, while causing more than half (52 percent) of all women undergoing the test to be overdiagnosed and overtreated.
According to lead author Peter C. Gøtzsche, had mammograms been a drug, “it would have been withdrawn from the market long ago.”
It’s Time to Revise the ‘When in Doubt, Cut It Out’ Mentality
Going back to where we started, even when using the cancer industry’s own statistics mammography comes up short, provided you understand what the 20 percent actually means. To reiterate, the difference between getting routine mammograms and not getting them is that the life of 1 in 1,000 women is saved.
Four die even with mammograms, compared to five deaths among those who do not get screened. And again, 10 of those 1,000 screened women will be treated for cancer even though they do not actually have it. Clearly the choice is yours. If you find comfort in thinking you may be that one person who is saved, then by all means follow your heart or gut instinct.
Just be clear about the risks, because the chances are far greater you could be one of the 10 who ends up undergoing chemo or a mastectomy for a tumor that would not have caused you harm. As noted by Dr. Joann Elmore of the University of Washington School of Medicine:26
“We get credit for curing disease that never would have harmed the patient. We receive positive feedback from patients thanking us for ‘saving my life,’ alarming feedback from patients with ‘missed diagnoses’ and no feedback at all from patients whose cancer was overdiagnosed. The mantras, ‘All cancers are life-threatening’ and ‘When in doubt, cut it out’, require revision.”
Solid Evidence for Vitamin D as a Cancer Prevention Tool
Mammograms are portrayed as the best form of “prevention” a woman can get. But early diagnosis is not the same as prevention. And when the cancer screening does more harm than good, how can it possibly qualify as your best hope? I believe the evidence really speaks for itself when it comes to mammography.
The same can be said for research into vitamin D, which repeatedly shows that optimizing your vitamin D level within a range of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) provides impressive cancer protection. I believe testing your vitamin D level is one of the most important cancer prevention tests available. Ideally get tested twice a year.
There are exceptions, of course. If you feel a lump in your breast, a mammogram may be warranted, although even then there are other non-ionizing alternatives, such as ultrasound, which has been shown to be considerably superior to mammography, especially for dense-breasted women who are at much higher risk of a false negative when using mammography.
One of the most recent studies27 looking at vitamin D for breast cancer found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with cancer progression and metastasis. As noted by Stanford University researcher, Dr. Brian Feldman:28
“A number of large studies have looked for an association between vitamin D levels and cancer outcomes, and the findings have been mixed. Our study identifies how low levels of vitamin D circulating in the blood may play a mechanistic role in promoting breast cancer growth and metastasis.”
Having higher levels of vitamin D has also been linked to increased likelihood of survival after being diagnosed with breast cancer.29 In one study, breast cancer patients who had an average of 30 ng/ml of vitamin D in their blood had a 50 percent lower mortality rate compared to those who had an average of 17 ng/ml of vitamin D.
I am really grateful that the medical community has embraced vitamin D and started using it. However, it’s important to understand that the best way to get vitamin D is from sensible sun exposure, and if you’re really interested in optimal health and healing you will do everything in your power to get it. This is one of the reasons I moved to Florida. I have not swallowed vitamin D in over 8 years and still have levels over 60 ng/ml.
There are many other benefits of sunlight exposure other than vitamin D. Over 40 percent of sunlight is near-infrared rays that your body requires to structure the water in your body and stimulate mitochondrial repair and regeneration. If you merely swallow vitamin D and avoid the sun, you are missing a primary benefit of sensible sun exposure.
If you are stuck in the winter and have low vitamin D, it is probably best to swallow oral vitamin D like a drug, but please recognize that this is a FAR inferior way to optimize vitamin D levels and you are missing many important biological benefits when you avoid sun exposure.
You can learn more about vitamin D’s influence on cancer and other health problems in my previous article, “The Who, Why and When of Vitamin D Screening.” The fact of the matter is there are many strategies that are far more beneficial in terms of breast cancer prevention than mammography. So if you’re hitching your fate on mammograms, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.
We all know that it’s important to eat our vegetables. At least, that’s what most of us have heard since we were kids. What our mother’s told us as when we were young, our doctors tell us as we get older. Sometimes though, it helps to have a more specific reason than high cholesterol, or even a motherly “because I said so.” Especially for people who aren’t big fans of eating organic greens.
According to a study conducted at Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Micronutrient Research Institute confirms that sulforaphane, a phytochemical found in broccoli and related cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower and cabbage, have a natural ability to target and attack prostate cancer cells without harming neighboring cells . Unconnected studies suggest it may have similar promise for breast cancer.
The active chemicals found in everyday foods – such as broccoli – are often much more potent than people would imagine. If fact, determining how to safely adapt these chemical ingredients for medical use is one of the biggest hurdles researchers face. Even edible plants that are considered “rich” in a given nutritional substance, contain relatively low amounts of it by volume. The vast majority of these compounds may also become toxic to humans if taken in large enough concentrations.
While a number of previous investigations have proven that sulforaphane is able to attack both benign and malignant cancer cells, the Oregon State study is one of the first to prove that it is effective without disrupting otherwise healthy tissue. This gives researchers a tremendous tool for developing new, low-risk treatment options, and is likely to encourage additional research into the healing potential of other seemingly mundane edible plants.
Realistically, it could be some time before these findings are applied to any sort of drug development or cancer treatment in a traditional hospital setting. Meanwhile though, the researchers behind the study recommend that we all eat more organic cruciferous vegetables.
Besides broccoli, a number of readily available cruciferous vegetables contain naturally large amounts of sulforaphane. Some good examples of foods high in this important phytochemical include mild and spicy radishes, turnips, watercress, cabbage, arugula, kale, chard, and most other leafy greens.
Unrelated studies also suggest a variety of other cancer-fighting compounds may be present in other herbs and garden vegetables. Celery and parsley, for instance, are especially rich in apigenin – a substance that has shown remarkable promise for fighting breast cancer. Trace amounts of apigenin are also found in oranges, apples, and some tree nuts. The problem is, it’s very difficult for the body to effectively extract it from any of these foods on its own.
“Mammography screening has been promoted to the public with three simple promises that all appear to be wrong: It saves lives and breasts by catching the cancers early.”
“I believe that if screening had been a drug, it would have been withdrawn from the market long ago.”
~ Peter C Gøtzsche
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month just around the corner, a new study promises to undermine the multi-billion dollar cause-marketing orgy that shepherds millions of women into having their breasts scanned for cancer with x-rays that themselves are known to contribute to breast cancer.
Now, a study conducted by Peter C Gøtzsche, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and titled “Mammography screening is harmful and should be abandoned,” strikes to the heart of the matter by showing the actual effect of decades of screening has not been to reduce breast cancer specific mortality, despite the generation of millions of new so-called “early stage” or “stage zero” breast cancerdiagnoses.
Other recent research has determined that the past 30 years of breast cancer screening has lead to the overdiagnosis and overtreatment of about 1.3 million U.S. women, i.e. tumors were detected on screening that would never have led to clinical symptoms, and should never have been termed “cancers” in the first place. Truth be told, the physical and psychophysical suffering wrought by the harms of breast cancer screening can not even begin to be quantified.
Gøtzsche is very clear about the implications of his review on the decision to undergo mammography. He opines that the effect of screening on mortality, which is the only true measure of whether a medical intervention is worth undertaking, is to increase total mortality.
Gøtzsche summarizes his findings powerfully:
Mammography screening has been promoted to the public with three simple promises that all appear to be wrong: It saves lives and breasts by catching the cancers early. Screening does not seem to make the women live longer; it increases mastectomies; and cancers are not caught early, they are caught very late. They are also caught in too great numbers. There is so much overdiagnosis that the best thing a women can do to lower her risk of becoming a breast cancer patient is to avoid going to screening, which will lower her risk by one-third. We have written an information leaflet that exists in 16 languages on www.cochrane.dk, which we hope will make it easier for a woman to make an informed decision about whether or not to go to screening.
I believe that if screening had been a drug, it would have been withdrawn from the market long ago. Many drugs are withdrawn although they benefit many patients, when serious harms are reported in rather few patients. The situation with mammography screening is the opposite: Very few, if any, will benefit, whereas many will be harmed. I therefore believe it is appropriate that a nationally appointed body in Switzerland has now recommended that mammography screening should be stopped because it is harmful.
We are only a month away from Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a cause marketing orgy bedecked with pink ribbons, and infused with a pinkwashed mentality that has entirely removed the word “carcinogen,” i.e. the cause, from the discussion. All the better to raise billions more to find the “cure” everyone is told does not yet exist.
Women need to break free from the medical industrial complex’s ironclad hold on their bodies and minds, and take back control of their health through self-education and self-empowerment. The following articles and resources should help aid in that goal: