I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week talking about some controversial topics in cancer care. But I saved the most controversial for today.
Honestly, if you want to get a bunch of gynecologists and primary care doctors fighting, just ask them how often they recommend mammograms.
In 2015, the American Cancer Society (ACS) revised its breast cancer screening guidelines to make mammograms more infrequent. They recommend annual mammograms begin at the age of 45. After that, the recommendation is once every two years.
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPTSF), on the other hand, recommends mammograms every two years for women ages 50 to 74.
Meanwhile, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opts for annual mammograms starting at age 40.
If your head is spinning from all this conflicting advice, you’re not alone. Apparently doctors can’t make heads or tails of it either. So instead, they’re just ignoring the guidelines and sending women off to be screened in droves.
According to a new study, 81 percent of primary care physicians recommend mammograms to women aged 40 to 44 years. Gynecologists are even more mammogram-happy (which makes sense considering the ACOG recommendations are the most aggressive of all).
So when the guiding organizations can’t agree with each other and doctors can’t seem to agree with anyone, what’s a woman to do?
Unfortunately there’s no definitive answer. I don’t necessarily agree with the guidelines put in place by any of the three organizations I mentioned. But I am firm on this: There are still too many mammograms being done each year that are completely unnecessary.
Some doctors (and patients) would say that it’s better safe than sorry. Better to diagnose cancer early than to let it go undetected and potentially grow. And that’s a valid point, but the fact is that mammography is not risk-free.
Not only do mammograms expose breast tissue to radiation — which, in and of itself, can cause cancer — but they also introduce the potential for overdiagnosis. Which is the most serious problem to arise from this overdependence on mammograms.
Today, mammograms are picking up tiny tumors that just a few years ago we wouldn’t have even seen. And in a lot of those cases, the tumors would never have developed into a problem.
Yet these women are undergoing extensive surgery, ongoing mammograms and MRIs, and a lifetime of effects.
It’s like we are back in the 1970s, when every woman was advised to have her reproductive organs removed to prevent cancer. That advice didn’t work then, and it won’t work today either.
So why are physicians advising frequent and early mammograms — often in direct defiance of their professional organizations’ guidelines? One word: litigation.
The fact is, many doctors think they’re less likely to get sued if they do something rather than nothing.
And it doesn’t help that patients have been conditioned to think more testing equals more security.
If this mindset sounds familiar, I urge you to think long and hard before you undergo screening that may do more harm than good. Then have an informed discussion with your doctor.
A little chat can go a long way.
For more information on cancer screening and how to combat this disease safely and naturally, check out my report Cancer-Free for Life. You can learn more about it or order a copy by clicking here.