The word strikes fear into the heart of most women. The mainstream medical profession continues to insist that the only way for us to protect ourselves against death from breast, cervical and womb cancer is by getting regular mammograms and Pap smears. We are still being filled with fear by mainstream media and Big Pharma about the dangers of breast cancer, and treated to horror stories about brave women who have been cancer victims yet survived to tell the tale. Instead of empowering us so we can take action to make cancer's appearance in our own life unlikely, most of what we’re told about the illness fills us with so much fear that it makes it almost impossible to sort out facts from fantasies. Each woman responds to fear-mongering in a different way. Some keep booking regular appointments at “well women clinics.” Others bury their heads like ostriches, hoping that the cancer terror will pass them by. Whichever way you choose to view the threat of cancer—whether real or imagined—is disempowering. Even words used to describe someone who has the illness—a cancer victim
—bestows upon the illness a power it does not deserve.
Ask the so-called experts how best to protect yourself from dying of cancer. They are likely to respond that early detection is the answer. The prevailing theory is that the earlier you detect cancers, the better your chances of survival. This is untrue. Breast cancers are diagnosed through a combination of sonograms, aspiration of lumps, physical exams, mammograms and surgical biopsy, where a piece of tissue from the breast is removed and examined under the microscope. Mammograms are x-rays taken of your breasts, used to diagnose breast cancer at its earliest appearance—supposedly before it can be felt by physical exam. This remains standard medical procedure in most countries.
Interesting research first came to light as the result of the largest study of its kind ever carried out in Canada. The Canadian National Breast Screening Study followed the fate of 89,836 women between 40 and 49 for an eight year period, during which half of them were given mammograms every year to eighteen months while the other half were only examined physically. When all the results were tallied, researchers discovered that deaths from cancer in women who got regular mammograms were significantly higher than those who had no mammograms done. When results were published—which, incidentally, did not happen until a full four years after the study was completed—the NCI finally announced that the increase in death from breast cancer was 52 percent. In simple terms, you are half again as likely to die of cancer if you do have regular mammograms as if you do not. This report made the headlines, “Breast Scans Boost Risk of Cancer Death”, reported The Times. It then went on to explain that “Middle-aged women who have regular mammograms are more likely to die from breast cancer than women who are not screened, according to dramatic new research.”
Mammography subjects you to powerful ionizing radiation which can cause cancer. One mammogram delivers the radiation equivalent of 1,000 chest x-rays into your body. Each year in the United States, an amazing 4 billion dollars is spent on over-diagnosis and false-positives in relation to mammography results. And the incidence of false positive results are known to be as high as 56% in a woman who has undergone 10 mammograms.
Another very recent, massive study over 25 years concluded that mammograms have absolutely NO effect on mortality rates. The New York Times reported on it:
"One of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quartercentury, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age. It found that the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. And the screening had harms: one in five cancers found with mammography and treated was NOT a threat to the woman's health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation."
EARLY DETECTION NONSENSE
The second widespread notion about cancer is that the earlier it is detected and surgery performed, the better are a woman’s chances of survival. This too is untrue, as Petr Skrabanek reported some time ago in the British Medical Journal: "There is no evidence that early mastectomy affects survival. If the patients knew this, they would most likely refuse surgery". At the University of California in Berkeley, Professor Hardin Jones, whose expertise is in the areas of medical physics and physiology, had reported to the American Cancer Society some 20 years ago that every serious attempt to relate early treatment to survival has been unsuccessful. Jones studied many reports that looked at detection and survival and found that those subjects chosen for treatment for cancer tended to be patients who were considered capable of being cured by operations, while the inoperable or terminal patients tended to be lumped together as part of the untreated control groups. After making adjustments in the statistics to take this into account, Jones reported that "My studies have proven conclusively that untreated cancer victims actually live up to four times longer than treated individuals." Jones' investigations, like those of other researchers, continue to be ignored by Big Pharma and most of mainstream medicine and the media.
Not only are mammograms not a cure-all for breast cancer, a “clean” mammogram is no real guarantee that you do not have a cancer developing. Mammograms are capable of missing its presence altogether. They are open to a great deal of confusion and interpretation, since reading them is not an exact science but an art dependent upon the competence and judgement of human beings.
American specialist in internal medicine Dr H Gilbert Welch, a senior researcher at the Department of Veterans' Affairs in White River Junction Vermont, has looked carefully at the difficulties that go with the excessive diagnosis of diseases like breast cancer. He discovered that in women who die from other causes, an amazing 40 percent have had microscopic changes in their breasts. These are common lesions which show up on mammograms and there is no way in which any expert, no matter how skilled or highly experienced, is capable of knowing which of these will remain dormant and which may eventually turn into cancer.
Neither does a biopsy carried out after a “suspicious mammogram” improve survival rates from breast cancer. A biopsy entails cutting through the suspected lump and invading the protective pocket that helps keep a tumor from spreading, and as a result this very procedure designed to confirm the existence or non-existence of a cancerous lesion can actually encourage cancers present to metastasize—to spread to other parts of the body. German researchers who looked at the survival rates of patients with breast cancer discovered that those who had had biopsies died earlier than those who did not. Even biopsies done with a needle rather than a scalpel do not appear to be safe, quite apart from what the worry over waiting for results and the pain involved in the procedure can do by undermining a woman's immune system. George Crile Jr M.D., a Surgeon Emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States, says "It gives credence to what our patients already think and tell us—that cutting into cancer spreads it and makes it grow."
BANISH YOUR FEAR
It’s time we stopped falling victim to the pronouncements and procedures of high technology medical procedures as well as to cancer itself as a disease. The answer to its prevention lies mostly in our own hands. It depends largely on things we can do ourselves to change the way we eat, live and think—not in the hands of abstract medical theorizing and the fear-mongering which still too often accompanies it. As an editorial in The Lancet pointed out, "Some readers may be startled to learn that the overall mortality rate from carcinoma of the breast remains static. If one were to believe all the media hype, the triumphalism of the profession in the published research, and the almost weekly miracle breakthrough trumpeted by the cancer charities, one might be surprised that women are dying at all from this cancer."
The other common procedure to which we women are subjected is the Pap smear for diagnosing cervical abnormalities. Its name comes from a Dr George Papanicolaou, who developed the procedure almost three quarters of a century ago. It has since then been refined and is now used as a way of identifying “abnormal” (usually referred to as “pre-cancerous cells”) as early as possible. Using a simple instrument inserted into the vagina, a doctor scrapes away a sampling of cells from the squamocolumnar junction of the cervix just inside the cervical opening at the bottom of the womb. These are fixed on a slide with a chemical preservative and examined under the microscope by a technician or doctor used to reading them. Pap smears are frequently credited with some decline in the death rate for cervical cancer; however, they too can be highly unreliable and produce a number of both false-positives and false-negatives. There have still been no controlled randomized trials that prove that they actually save lives. When a trial was carried out in British Columbia, where mass screening by Pap smear had been carried out, deaths from cervical cancer did indeed drop: However, not a lot could be deduced from this fact, since they also dropped in the rest of Canada as well to just the same degree in areas where mass screening was not conducted. As Dr E Robin points out in his fascinating book Matters of Life and Death: Risks and Benefits of Medical Care, the Pap smear is not only one of the most common and popular laboratory tests, it is also one of the most unreliable. He writes about one study where two Pap smears were taken from the same women at the same time. An amazing two-thirds of the women's two tests showed different results.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
In the past five years, a great deal of information has come to light about how the way you eat and live either protects or predisposes you to cancer. Forward-thinking researchers are awakening to hormonal links in the development of breast and womb cancer and finding ways of using natural, bioidentical hormones to protect against it. In many ways even more exciting, a minority of savvy medical practitioners have begun to teach their patients that, above all else, to protect themselves from the illness we need to take responsibility for the kind of foods we eat. There is a lot to me said about how powerful this can be not only to protect yourself from cancer but from all of the common degenerative diseases as well as early ageing. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. I’ll be writing specifically about this very soon.