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How to Avoid Hearing, "You Have Breast Cancer…"
Breast cancer strikes fear in the hearts of all women. Most of us know someone – a friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor – who has been treated for breast cancer or worse, and died from the disease. Historically, breast cancer was diagnosed after a woman sought medical attention because of pain or a palpable mass. Annual mammograms have become the “gold standard” for breast cancer screening; the goal has become to find tumors before they can be felt.
However, mammography is a late examination. It does not prevent cancer; reveals cancer. Women have unreasonably high hopes for technology’s ability to reduce their cancer risk. A recent study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reported that women tend to overestimate the risk reduction potential of mammography by more than 100 times. (1)
Mammograms give a false sense of security about a clean bill of health. Sensitivity, or the number of women who have cancer and also have a positive mammogram, ranges from 54%-58% among women younger than 40 to 81%-94% among women older than 65. In women aged 40 to 65, the ability of mammograms to identify tumors depends on many variables: lesion size, hormone use, breast tissue density, overall image quality, and radiologist interpretation skills.
Cancer is identified in only a small proportion of women (0.1%-0.5%, depending on age) who undergo screening. Studies have shown that for every death prevented by screening, there are at least 200 false positives. (2) The number of follow-up procedures generated by cancer screening programs, such as repeated mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs, exponentially increases the cost of the disease. In the United States, biopsies that turn out to be benign cost the health care system more than a billion dollars a year.(3)
Screening has another potentially harmful effect. Women are psychologically damaged by the stress of an abnormal mammogram that turned out to be a false alarm. A new survey developed by Brodersen and colleagues and published this month (7/07) measured six psychosocial dimensions: anxiety, affect on behavior, feeling depressed, affect on sleep, breast examination, and sexuality. The research found that women who had an abnormal screening mammogram that was later confirmed to be a false positive were negatively impacted in all six categories.
What else can be done?
Digital infrared imaging (digital IR), also called thermography, has been FDA-approved for breast health screenings since 1982. It is painless, noninvasive, and does not use radiation. The scan detects and records heat patterns on the skin that cannot be seen with other tools.
Abnormal cells require large amounts of nutrients to grow rapidly. Through a process called angiogenesis, new blood vessels are drawn in the direction of the atypical cell. Along with the release of cytokines and nitric oxide, additional blood flows to the area which increases heat in the tissues which can be detected by thermography.
The normal temperature of the skin surface is symmetrical and deviates less than 0.3C from one side to the other. New digital IR cameras can detect differences as small as 0.1C. Temperature variations greater than 1.0C suggest the presence of abnormal, possibly precancerous cells. These subtle changes can be detected seven to eight years before a mass becomes palpable or can be detected by a mammogram.
What does the thermogram procedure look like?
After stripping to the waist, it takes approximately 15 minutes to equilibrate to room temperature. An experienced technician performs three scans – front, left and right – with arms extended above the head. Then both hands are placed in cold water for exactly one minute. When the sympathetic nervous system is cooled, normal blood vessels constrict; abnormal vessels remain the same size or expand. A second set of scans is taken for comparison. When the scans are complete, the exam is over.
Why doesn’t everyone do this test?
Why do doctors not routinely recommend this test? Why don’t they offer that in their office? An abnormal examination cannot be corrected with medicine. Conventional physicians are not trained in the use of vitamins, nutritional supplements, and detoxification, essential tools for repairing damaged physiology. If a woman has a normal mammogram, doctors dismiss an abnormal thermogram as a false positive. This is a missed opportunity for real cancer prevention.
Despite the current status of breast thermography, it has been researched for over 30 years. More than 800 peer-reviewed studies on breast thermography exist in index-medicus. The database represents more than 250,000 women, and the number of participants in many studies ranged from 37,000 to 118,000. Some of the women who had a positive thermogram were followed for up to 12 years; 35 percent of those who had a positive thermogram developed breast cancer.
What can you do
If an abnormality is detected on your thermogram, proactive steps can be taken to heal the breast tissue and progress can be monitored non-invasively through serial scans. If you don’t have access to a doctor who has digital IR equipment, you can take important steps toward breast health:
o Diet: Eat organically grown food. Pesticides accumulate in fatty tissue, and breasts can become a reservoir for estrogenic chemicals. Cut out all caffeine, chocolate, MSG, aspartame and herbs that have estrogenic properties, especially soy. Research has shown that soy supplements can increase the risk of breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women.
o Exercise: Walking and swinging your arms will activate the lymphatic vessels. Decongestion of breast tissue will reduce the risk of cancer.
o Eliminate hormones: Talk to your doctor about options for eliminating birth control pills and synthetic hormone replacements. The link between hormones and breast cancer has been confirmed (5).
o Accessories: Many nutritional supplements have been proven to have a positive effect on breast tissue. Here are some examples:
1. DIM (diindolylmethane) a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables, has anti-cancer effects and also works to repair damaged DNA.
2. turmeric (curcumin) kills cancer cells and has strong anti-angiogenesis properties
3. Drinking green tea or taking green tea extract capsules is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. All of these are available at your local health food store.
Women need to drive this industry and make conventional doctors do their homework. The new cameras are digital and far better than the cameras of 30 years ago. For women who are young, at high risk, have dense breasts, or want to be more proactive about breast health, a digital breast exam is the way to go.
(1) Elmore J., Choe J. Breast cancer screening for women in their 40s: Moving from data controversies to helping individual women. Ann Intern Med. April 3;146(7):529-31. 2007. PMID: 17404356
(2) Urbain JL. Breast cancer screening, diagnostic accuracy and health care policy. SHEEP. 18 Jan;172(2):210-1. 2005. PMID: 15655243
(3) Ibid. Urbain JL
(4) “Survey Determines Impact of False-Positive Cancer Tests.” Scientific journal. July 22, 2007
(5) “Confirmed: Link Between Breast Cancer and Hormone Therapy.” Scientific American.com July 26, 2007.
(6) Rahman KW. Gene expression profiling revealed survivin as a target of 3,3′-diindolylmethane-induced growth inhibition and apoptosis of breast cancer cells. Cancer Res. 2006 May 1;66(9):4952-60. PMID: 16651453
(7) Mosley CA Highly active curcumin analogs against cancer. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:77-103 PMID: 17569206
(8) Zhang M Green tea and breast cancer prevention: a case-control study in Southeast China. Carcinogenesis. May 2007;28(5):1074-8. Epub 2006 Dec 20 PMID: 17183063
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