In response to an article that was previously posted on this blog negating the so called health benefits of the mammogram, we received the following response from a doctor who was disturbed that we would publish such an article. She writes: “This article is extremely upsetting to me as a scientist, medical doctor and black woman. Often when we find breast cancer in black women it is fairly advanced probably in part because women are avoiding or unable to get mammograms. Even if this article is a joke, it is one in terrible taste. Many medical procedures use radiation, but we make a calculation about the risks versus the benefits. X-rays have radiation, but are you just going to let broken bones, heart failure and pneumonia go? I hope the publishers will read this and contact me. Let a real M.D. counter this nonsense with the facts. The truth is black women are not getting enough attention to their health, Articles like this do not help”
Personally, I find the tone of the doctor’s response rather typical of people in the medical profession who ,when confronted with a view that challenges the mainstream medical dogma that they embrace, resort to thinly veiled ad hominem attacks against the one presenting the information. As the chair of the Black is Back Healthcare Working Group and the editor of this section of the website, I have never presented myself as a doctor and neither did the author of the article. I chose to publish it because it is a well written, concise depiction of the dangers involved with mammography. The controversy surrounding the dangers of mammograms must be known! And the voices of the women who do not believe in mammography must be heard as well. I as a Black woman unapologetically state that I have never had a mammogram and nor will I ever get one! There – I said it!
The doctor refers to the article in question as nonsense. However, even the most cursory of internet searches turns up a wealth of information from accredited mainstream medical sources negating the health benefits of the mammogram! One such source is the British Medical Journal which in 2014 published the results from one of the most meticulous and exhaustive studies ever done on mammograms. It involved over 90,000 women who were monitored for twenty-five years. In the report, “Twenty five year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality of the Canadian National Breast Screening Study: randomised screening trial,” the authors state that their research does not support any benefit to mammography screening! To the contrary, their data shows that the death rate from breast cancer and other causes were the same for women who had mammograms as they were for women who did not! Moreover, the study elucidates the problems with false positives and over diagnosis. An article from the February 11, 2014 edition of the New York Times, entitled, Vast Study Casts Doubts on Value of Mammograms, states that 1 in 5 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer through mammography were falsely diagnosed and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, although many received such treatment.
These findings echo similar research published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012. That research also concluded that the mortality rate for women who received mammograms was only slightly lower than for those who did not and cautioned against the high prevalence of false positives. In 2011, the British Medical Journal published another study commenced by an international team from France, the UK and Norway, stating that breast cancer screening had no impact on mortality rates, and that lower deaths from breast cancer had more to do with improvements in treatments and healthcare delivery systems. Another study involving Swedish women published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, on July 17th, 2012, determined that its findings were consistent with many other studies showing that mammogram screenings had little to no effect on mortality rates for women between the ages of 40 – 69. This study was conducted by Dr. Philippe Autier of the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyons France.
And as if these studies were not enough to make the medical industrial complex reconsider it’s advocacy of mammograms, in 2012 an alarming report was published by one of the leading independent medical research organizations in the world, stating the dangers of mammograms and called for discontinuing it’s use. The world renown Nordic Cochrane Center , is an independent, NGO, non-profit medical research organization with 37,000 members from over 130 countries and is considered the gold standard for medical analysis. In its report, “Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography,” the Cochran Center states that “screening produces patients with breast cancer from among healthy women who would never have developed symptoms of breast cancer. Treatment of these healthy women increases their risk of dying, e.g. from heart disease and cancer.” Their research further states that mammography did not reduce mortality rates and that if 2000 women were screened for the next ten years only one would be saved, but that 200 women would receive false positives, resulting in unnecessary mastectomies, biopsies, and chemotherapy. The Cochrane report concludes that mammography screening should no longer be considered beneficial.
Regarding the issue of over diagnosis and false positives, in 2013 a National Cancer Institute commissioned expert panel made the dramatic revelation that DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) is not cancerous, but is instead a benign growth which would never manifest any kinds of symptoms. The problem is that a large percentage of the growths that mammograms detect are DCIS in nature and the screening is often not able to distinguish between benign growths and cancerous ones. This has resulted in millions of women being falsely diagnosed as having breast cancer and being subjected to harsh treatments such as mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation etc. In the November 22nd, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine Drs. Archie Bleyer and Gilbert Welch estimate that during the last 30 years of breast screening, 1.3 million women were falsely diagnosed as having breast cancer. And as if these findings were not dire enough, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that the ionizing radiation from mammograms can in fact alter one’s DNA, making them more susceptible to various forms of breast cancer! Consider this alarming statistic: since the advent of the mammogram in the 1970s, breast cancer has been on the rise! The National Cancer Institute stated in 2012 that the chances of women developing breast cancer was 1 in 8; however, in 1970, it was 1 in 10. It also states that prior to 2000, there was a twenty year increase in breast cancer rates and it credits the decline since 2000 to the linkage of hormone replacement therapy with cancer risks. According to a 2011 article in USA Today, findings at the University of Washington show that there has been a dramatic jump in new cases of breast cancers worldwide in the past 30 years and that in every part of the world, including the United States, the number of new cases increases by at least 3.1 percent a year (In 1980 there was 640,000 cases worldwide, in 2010 there were 1.6 million such cases). On the website, Mercola.com , Dr Joseph Mercola, who is board certified in family medicine and who was named the top Ultimate Wellness Game Changer in 2009, states that in 1960 1 in 20 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, but today that number is 1 in 7. And in even more alarming news, the American Association for Cancer Research anticipates that breast cancer rates will increase by as much as 50% by 2030.
Now there are those who might think that the rise in breast cancer rates is the result of many more women getting mammograms and thus detecting the cancer. But if that is the case, there should be a decline in the number of women who develop late stage breast cancer, but to the contrary, that number is negligible, and for the number of women who developed metastatic breast cancer, there was no change at all in the 30 year period from 1976 to 2008! It is important to understand that mammograms use ionizing radiation and exposure to radiation causes cancer! The American Cancer Society states that one mammogram screening exposes women to 0.4 mSv of radiation. However, that is at least four times the amount of radiation exposure from a regular chest x-ray, which is 0.1 mSv. Dr. Samuel Epstein, a highly respected scholar in cancer prevention and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago’s School of Public Health, states that the exposure can be 1000 times higher than that resulting from an x-ray. He goes on to say that the continued exposure of women to radiation from mammography over a ten – twenty year period can approximate a woman’s exposure from radiation to that of an atomic bomb (1 The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, page ???) The National Cancer Fund states that repeated exposures to mammogram screening can cause significant DNA damage, resulting in DNA double strand breaks which the cells cannot repair. Through time, these damaged cells undergo neoplastic transformation, which is the process of healthy tissues growing into malignant tumors. Even the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute are forced to acknowledge that repeated exposure to mammograms has the potential to cause cancer. And in 2015 a report was even published in the February issue of Consumer Reports stating that radiation from medical imaging, such as CT scans, x-rays and mammograms increases the risk of breast cancer. Yet the author of that article still encourages women to get mammograms.
Although more and more main stream sources are forced to acknowledge the cancer risks that radiation pose , they attempt to diminish this threat by stating that the amount of radiation used is minimal and that it is low energy radiation. But there are those who argue that this rationalization is fallacious and deceptive. A 2006 report appearing in the British Institute of Radiology states that radiobiological studies show that low energy mammograms are up to six times as effective in causing DNA damage to cells than higher energy mammograms. Whereas high energy radiation, although extremely dangerous, travels through tissue at a much faster speed with a greater penetration force , it passes through the body much more quickly. On the other hand, low energy radiation travels at a much slower speed, is far less penetrating than high level radiation, and therefore interacts with bodily tissue and other materials much more intensely. And the younger the woman is when her breasts are exposed to radiation, the greater her chances are of developing breast cancer. According to Dr. Epstein “the premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad (radiation absorbed dose) exposure increases breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade’s screening.”
So why, with all of the studies linking the use of the mammograms to serious consequences involving breast cancer, and why, with the data showing the rate of breast cancer increasing since the advent of the mammogram, does the modern medical establishment continue to promote its usage as a safe and effective tool in the fight against breast cancer? Could it be that breast cancer and mammography is a multi-billion dollar industry? Could it be that the prescribed guidelines for breast cancer screening results in billions of dollars of profit for the mammogram industry, which in turn gives funding to medical schools and so called cancer prevention foundations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society (ACS)? The mammogram industry consists of corporations such as Dupont, General Electric (one of the largest manufacturers of mammogram machines in the world) Kodak Eastmen and various radiology organizations that either perform the mammograms, or make the supplies. Five radiologists have been president of the American Cancer Society (ACS). Dupont, which makes the film for the mammogram machines, is a substantial backer of the ACS Breast Health Awareness Program. Meanwhile AtraZeneca Pharmaceuticals helped establish National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1984. Susan G. Komen (SGK) is an investor in AtraZeneca, which manufacturers Tamoxifen, one the world’s top selling breast cancer drugs, which is also known to increase a person’s chances of getting endometrial cancer by 50%. AtraZeneca’s parent company is Imperial Chemical Industries, an international giant which manufacturers chemicals and carcinogenic pesticides. Moreover, Montsanto, along with many companies in the biotech, pesticide and junk food industries are also sponsors of SGK. In what has become known as pinkwashing, many companies that manufacture products with known cancer causing carcinogens participate in the pink campaigns, which they use as publicity stunts to deceive the public and to mask the dangerous connections that their products have to the rising cancer rates.
With all of the research conclusively showing the dangers of mammograms, what are women left to do? Unfortunately modern medicine has a vested financial interest in maintaining the illusion that mammography is the only game in town and that there is little that anyone can do to protect themselves in the fight against breast cancer. But the good news is that this is simply not true, and that in spite of all of the negative news about mammography, there is a wealth of inspiring and empowering information that women can add to their arsenal in their fight against breast cancer. First and foremost, we must begin to shift our paradigm of healthcare from a disease management system in which toxic pharmaceutical cocktails with horrible side effects are defined as medicine to one in which we recognize the profound medicinal properties of food, energy and nutrition. Humans were not the first life forms on this planet, and doctors were not the first humans; yet this planet sustained life long before the advent of mankind. And reconnecting to the power of the life sustaining forces of this planet is critical to a long and healthy life.
Below are some natural modalities that you will not hear much about from mainstream sources.
Much has been written about the necessity of a whole foods plant based diet in combatting all forms of cancers and other illnesses. In his book, “How to Overcome Cancer Without Drugs or Surgery,” Dr. Ilaila Afrika, world renown specialist in African holistic healing, states that most cancers can be eliminated with dietary changes, herbs, and a return to whole foods. Dr. Christine Horner, a highly respected breast cancer prevention specialist, who at one time was a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society , states that making just one of the recommended dietary changes can significantly decrease one’s chances of getting breast cancer by 50%, or if one already has breast cancer, it will increase their chances for survival exponentially. She goes on to say that the research shows that plant based nutrition is most important for optimal health because plants are packed full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which behave exactly like chemotherapy. Researcher Katrin Sak, whose article “Chemotherapy and Dietary Phytochemical Agents” was published by WebMD.gov, writes:
“The nutritional approach may be the means of helping to raise cancer therapy to a new level of success as supplementing or supporting the body with natural phytochemicals cannot only reduce adverse side effects but improve also the effectiveness of chemotherapeutics. Various plant-derived compounds improve the efficiency of cytotoxic agents, decrease their resistance, lower and alleviate toxic side effects, reduce the risk of tumour lysis syndrome, and detoxify the body of chemotherapeutics.”
Holistic healer Queen Afua touts proper digestion and plenty of fresh greens as paramount in the fight against breast cancer and states how studies have shown that chlorophyl, which is the enzyme that gives green plants their color, oxygenates the blood and helps prevents the growth of tumors. In fact, the efficacy of plant based, whole food nutrition in the fight against cancer is so strong that now even mainstream sources are being forced to acknowledge this fact, but will usually bury it in some small way in their literature. Both The American Cancer Society and the Cancer Treatment Centers of America have information buried on their websites that acknowledge that proper nutrition can help the body feel better and heal faster, and the National Cancer Institute has language on its website stating that some complementary and alternative modalities are safe and effective.
Be forewarned however that any mention of natural modalities in mainstream sources is usually couched in language that heavily favors the pharmaceutical industry, while casting doubts on solely relying on natural modalities.
For far too long, the Newtonian paradigm of medicine, that treats the physical body as a bio-chemical machine with separate mechanized components, that, when in need of repair, is to be serviced with chemical interventions, removal and/or replacement has dominated modern medicine. In the Newtonian model the body is a mechanical whole and all matter is inert. Although this way of thinking is extremely profitable for the medical industrial complex and pharmaceutical industry, it has served to the detriment of today’s society, as it completely ignores the energy aspect of existence. Energy medicine is based on the ancient African belief system of the interconnectedness of existence, whereby matter is viewed as a continuous moving vibrational force and each human body is perceived as being enveloped in an energy template. In energy medicine, diseases of the physical body are caused by deficiencies in the energy field and can begin to heal by realigning one’s energies. Magnetic energy, reiki, acupuncture, etc. fall under the category of energy healing. I have worked with magnetic energy for over 20 years and have personally witnessed remarkable healing results, even in cases where doctors ruled there was no hope.
Alternative Screening Methods
Monthly Breast Self Examinations (BSE) under the instruction of trained professionals, in conjunction with annual Clinical Breast Examinations (CBE) performed by trained professionals, are safe and as effective as mammograms in early detection. In 2014, one of the largest and most meticulous studies ever done on mammograms, which involved 90,000 women who were monitored for 25 years, was published in the British Journal of Medicine. This study was conducted by the Canadian National Breast Screening Foundation which conclusively found that there was no difference in mortality rates between the group of women who received mammograms and the group who only used the BSE and CBE methods. In fact, the researchers found that physical breast exams appeared to be as good or better than regular mammograms at locating serious cancers. Interestingly enough, the study’s authors did not set out to prove that BSEs and CBEs were safer than mammography.
However, although physical breast exams are safer than mammography and don’t pose any direct harm to the breasts, there are still studies showing that this approach can also lead to over diagnosis. Breast Cancer Action, an organization that defines itself as an activist watchdog organization committed to fearlessly telling the truth beyond the pinkwashing , reminds women that not every lump leads to breast cancer and recommends that instead of following a regimented monthly exam, that women instead know their bodies, that they be sensitive to any changes in their breasts, and that they periodically conduct self exams. (Although this organization does encourage mammography for women who are at very high risk of getting breast cancer, it also urges the medical profession to look beyond mammography for answers and to develop tools that are not radiation based.) Dr. Christiane Northrup, a board certified ob/gyn and a leading visionary in the field of women’s health, advocates a similar approach. She tauts the self-love breast massage that women should do while relaxing in Epsom salt baths and says women should massage their breasts with love, without looking for anything in particular and that they should get to know their breasts in a healthy, loving way. She instructs women to use their palms, and not their fingertips, because with fingertips women will feel every gland, which can cause unnecessary anxiety.
Thermography is the process whereby digital infrared technology is used to take a thermal picture of the breast using the heat generated from one’s own body to detect any abnormal activity. It does this by measuring inflammation within the breast. Inflammation is the body’s first line of defense in protecting itself from harmful stimuli or damage, including damaged cancer cells. It is the body’s first responder system indicating that something is wrong and its main physiological components are heat, pain and swelling or any combination of all three. Breast thermograms are able to measure any abnormalities that cause a change in heat production. And it is able to detect such activity at least 10 years in advance of anything that a mammogram is able to detect. This technology shows much promise and is reported to be completely safe as it requires neither radiation nor breast compression. From an infrared picture it is able to detect heat and vascular patterns in breast tissue. Cancer cells don’t grow like normal blood cells and need an increased supply of blood vessels to ensure replication. This increased growth in blood vessels generates heat which thermograms are able to detect. These abnormal cancer cells start to grow years before the presence of any tumors or other activities.
Thermograms show great promise in cancer prevention because of its ability to detect high inflammatory areas in the body long before the presence of tumors, etc. But it is important to understand that a high temperature reading does not automatically mean cancer. Thermography detects the subtle physiological changes that occur in the breast leading up to various diseases such as cancers, cysts, vascular diseases, etc. The results from thermograms are measured on a rating scale of TH 1 – TH 5, with 1 being normal and 5 being severely abnormal. And whenever a thermogram registers a high temperature reading, a recommendation for further analysis is made (thermograms cannot diagnose cancer, only a biopsy specialist can do that), whereby an individual can meet with her healthcare practitioner to chart a plan of action that should include nutritional, metabolic, environmental and lifestyle interventions. (For more information about thermography please visit the International Academy of Clinical Thermology’s website. They also provide links to qualified thermography centers.) But the most important thing that anyone should remember when confronted with distressing news by a healthcare professional is that there are always options available and that there is a wealth of information that exists outside of the mainstream medicine about non-invasive, safe modalities to empower people to make informed decisions to guarantee the best health outcomes.
Lastly, as a progressive revolutionary Black female, I would be remiss if I did not address one other issue that the doctor raises in her criticism of the original article about the dangers of mammograms — and that is the issue of health outcomes for Black women. The doctor states that Black women do not have enough attention paid to their health and insinuates that articles like this do not help. Well, there is no way that any meaningful discussion of health outcomes in the Black community can be discussed without first and foremost dealing with the issue of racism in the medical field! And while it is not often discussed in this way, racism in the medical field is as prevalent and as brutal as it in its police counterpart. Harriet Washington’s seminal books “Medical Apartheid” and “Deadly Monopolies” documents western medicine’s longstanding history of deadly medical experimentation and abuses of communities of color, especially the Black community. When the institution of chattel slavery was still thriving in this country, it was common practice for “doctors” to practice on enslaved Africans. In fact, J. Marion Simms, who is called the father of modern day gynecology, and is recognized as being a surgical pioneer, perfected procedures that are heralded today as breakthroughs, using enslaved African woman by experimenting on them without anesthesia! There were several women, Lucy, Anarcha and Betsey, that he cut open on numerous occasions and in his autobiography he writes about Lucy that “the poor girl, on her knees bore the operation . . . “ So how can we expect an institution that not only practiced racism, but that views the practitioners of it’s brutal racist past as today’s heroes? (Click here for a modern day account of doctors justifying Simms use of enslaved women.) In 2001 the National Medical Association (an association of doctors of African descent), stated that racism was in large part the reason that African people have the worst health outcomes of any racial group in the U.S. Even with pain management, Black people are given inadequate pain medications and are less likely to receive adequate analgesia. And in one of the most shocking statistics, studies show that there is racism in healthcare delivery for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer! Black women have a 41% higher breast cancer mortality rate than white women due in large part to the reality that on average a doctor will take longer to diagnose a Black woman with cancer after an abnormal mammogram than they will a white woman. Also only 62% of Black women start treatment within 30 days of diagnosis, compared to 82% of white women.
The goal of the Black is Back Healthcare Working Group is not to prescribe treatments for disease nor is it to make any diagnosis of any kind. Our goal is to empower and to inform our communities , as well as to help our people reawaken to our glorious African tradition of natural healing. We are unfettered by western medical dogma and remain committed to speaking truth to power. We seek to expose the politics behind the designation of “scientifically accepted,” while broadening the conversations about what is considered healthcare. And it is our belief that the more people become accustomed to questioning what is defined as healthcare, and the more information they have about sound, non-invasive, safe modalities, the better the choices they will make and the happier they will be with the outcomes.
submitted by Lisa V. Davis, Chair of the BIB Healthcare Working Group
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