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Questioning Mammograms & Assessing the Risks

Posted Oct 16 2008 7:58pm

While the medical community touts the effectiveness and cost efficiency of mammograms, the risks are rarely mentioned. Alternative Medicine recently raised some thought-provoking issues about this standard breast cancer screening procedure. Many woman aren't aware of the negative side of mammography and they tend to overestimate its benefits, reports the health magazine.

The biggest risks of mammograms are the high rate of false-positives, which is about one in 10, and the exposure to radiation--a known carcinogen. The annual mammograms gives a much higher dose of radiation than a typical chest x-ray and has an accumulative effect on the body. In addition to exposing the body every year to radiation, many woman must have additional screening when they receive a false-positive, adding to further exposure. According to Alternative Medicine, this radiation exposure over a lifetime increases a woman's risk of developing cancer.

Additionally, a number of studies don't support the claim that mammograms save lives. In fact, two trials found no significant reduction in breast cancer mortality.

While Alternative Medicine looks at alternative options to mammography, such as thermography (digital infrared imaging) and ultrasound, none came up a clear winner. However, the one that holds the most promise is elasticity imaging, a new offshoot of ultrasound. A 2006 study found that when the hand-held device was used in correlation with a routine ultrasound exam, it was 99 to 100 percent effective at identifying malignant verses benign lesions.

Of course, a woman's best bet for beating breast cancer is taking steps to prevent it in the first place.

"It's far more important for women to focus on prevention," said Christine Horner, MD told Alternative Medicine. A crusader for women's breast health and author of Waking the Warrior Goddess, Horner said that a woman can reduce her chances of getting breast cancer by more than 75 percent through good nutrition, supplements, herbs and making the right lifestyle choices.

For women wanting to assess their risk of invasive breast cancer, the National Institute of Health offers an interactive tool at cancer.gov that can predict the risk for groups of women.

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