No proof that mammogram causes cancer

11 October 2018 - 12:56
By Somaya Stockenstroom
Women are advised that breast cancer is treatable and can be cured.
Women are advised that breast cancer is treatable and can be cured.

Doctors warn to take what you read about mammograms in social media with a pinch of salt.

A professor and diagnostic radiographer, Michael Herbst, says mammograms are still the golden standard for breast screening.

This after a study done by the New England Journal of Medicine released a report stating that mammograms have had "a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer".

"For 10 years we have actually argued that the research evidence shows screening mammograms do more harm than good. For every woman whose life is saved, three women or more are unnecessarily treated; their lives put at risk with radiation and toxic chemicals," reads the report published on website and many more mammogram opposing sites.

But Herbst says he is not aware of such research and argues that citizens in the United Kingdom have adequate access to NHS (publicly funded National Healthcare Service) whereas in South Africa we have not even started the NHI (National Health Insurance) yet.

"One should not concentrate on the situation in the UK and compare it to SA. In SA there is no such thing as 'overdiagnosis'. Here more than 80% of the population have problems in accessing healthcare."

He also states that there is no such mammograms causing more harm than good.

"I have never come across any woman who complained that the mammography procedure was 'painful'. Uncomfortable at times, yes."

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He explains that the technology has indeed improved over the years.

"Today we talk about Tomosynthesis (3D Mammography) and Digital Breast Tomosynthesis. There are now cup-shaped 'resting areas' for the patient's breast during mammography procedure.

"There are also foot controls where the patient does the compression of his/her breast and he/she determines how much compression they feel comfortable with.

"Mammography remains the golden standard for breast screening. The 3D version scans small sections of the breast, improving the detection of small breast cancers."

Breast Imaging Specialists Dr Shirley Lipschitz and Dr Liat Malek, from the Breast Wellness Centre in Johannesburg, agrees there are many misconceptions around breast cancer, especially mammograms.

"Mammograms are a source of radiation, much like any X-ray, however these have never been proven to cause breast cancer. Through many studies and trials, it is thought that out of one million women, only one or two women will develop a cancer as a result of the mammogram itself. In fact, the dose of a single mammogram is comparable to the radiation one would be exposed to on a flight to, for example, London."

Based on 2014 statistics in South Africa, breast cancer is the most common cancer in white, Asian and coloured women, and the second most common cancer in black women.

"It also doesn't only affect women, it affects men too. The aim of a mammogram is to diagnose breast cancer as early as possible, even before any signs or symptoms develop. By the time a lump is felt, the breast cancer may have already progressed and started spreading outside the breast.

"Early breast cancer is easier and more successful to treat. Breast cancer is treatable and can be cured. There are many new and improved methods of treatment, both surgical and/or through the use of hormonal therapy, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

"There are multiple factors that may contribute to a women being at higher risk for breast cancer, including: family history, genetic factors (BRCA1 and BRCA2 - sometimes referred to as the Angelina Jolie gene), personal history, and hormonal factors. If you think you are at a higher risk to develop breast cancer, please consult a physician."

The doctors warn that signs includes a lump or thickening in the breast, or in the armpit; skin dimpling and/or redness of the skin and nipple changes.