Breast cancer strikes fear in the hearts of all women. Most of us have known someone-a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor-who has been treated for breast cancer or worse, has died from the disease. Historically, breast cancer was diagnosed after a woman sought medical attention for soreness or a palpable mass. Annual mammograms became the “gold standard” for breast cancer screening; the goal has become to find tumors before they can be felt.
However, mammography is a late test. It does not prevent cancer; it detects cancer. Women place unreasonably high hopes on the ability of the technology to reduce their risk of cancer. A recent study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, reported that women typically overestimate the risk reduction capability of a mammogram by more than 100-fold.(1)
Mammograms give a false sense of security about a clean bill of health. The sensitivity, or the number of women who have cancer and also have a positive mammogram, ranges from 54%-58% among women under age 40 to 81%-94% among women over 65. In women 40 to 65, the ability of a mammogram to identify a tumor depends on many variables: The size the lesion, hormone use, breast tissue density, the overall image quality and the interpretative skills of the radiologist.
Cancer is identified in only a small fraction of women (0.1%-0.5%, depending on age) who are screened. Studies have demonstrated that for each death prevented by screening, there are at least 200 false-positive results.(2) The number of follow-up procedures generated by cancer screening programs, such as repeat mammograms, ultrasounds and MRI, exponentially increases the cost of the disease. In the United States, biopsies that turn out to be benign cost the healthcare system more than $1 billion annually.(3)
Screening has another potentially harmful effect. Women are psychologically damaged by the stress of an abnormal mammogram that turns out to be a false alarm. A new survey developed by Brodersen and colleagues and released this month (7/07) measured six psychosocial dimensions: anxiety, behavioral impact, sense of dejection, impact on sleep, breast examination and sexuality. The survey showed that women who have an abnormal screening mammogram that is later confirmed to be a false-positive are 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, non-invasive and uses no radiation. The scan detects and records thermal patterns on the skin not seen with any other tool.
Abnormal cells require large quantities of nutrients for rapid growth. Through a process called angiogenesis, new blood vessels are drawn in the direction of the atypical cell. Coupled with the release of cytokines and nitric oxide, additional blood flows into the area that increases heat in the tissues that can be detected by thermography.
Normal skin surface temperature is symmetrical and deviates less than 0.3C from side to side. New digital IR cameras can detect differences as small as 0.1C. Temperature variation of more than 1.0C suggests the presence of abnormal, possibly pre-cancerous, cells. These subtle changes can be detected seven to eight years before a mass becomes palpable or can be detected by mammography.
What is a thermogram procedure like?
After disrobing to the waist, approximately 15 minutes is needed to equilibrate to room temperature. An experienced technician performs three scans–front, left and right–with arms extended over the head. Both hands are then placed in cool water for exactly one minute. When the sympathetic nervous system is chilled, normal vessels constrict; abnormal vessels remain the same size or dilate. A second set of scans is taken for comparison. When the scans are completed, the exam is over.
Why isn’t everyone doing this test?
Why aren’t doctors routinely recommending this test? Why don’t they offer it in their office? An abnormal scan cannot be corrected with a drug. Conventional doctors are not trained to use vitamins, supplements and detoxification, essential tools for repairing damaged physiology. If a woman has a normal mammogram, the abnormal thermogram is dismissed by physicians as a false positive. This is a missed opportunity for true 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 the index-medicus. The data base represents more than 250,000 women and the number of participants in many studies ranged from 37,000 to 118,000. Some of women who had a positive thermogram were followed for up to 12 years; 35 percent of those who had a positive thermogram went on to develop breast cancer.
What you can do
If an abnormality is identified on your thermogram, pro-active 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 physician who has digital IR equipment, you can take important steps toward breast health:
o Diet: Eat organically grown foods. Pesticides collect in fatty tissue, and the breast can become a reservoir for estrogenic chemicals. Eliminate all caffeine, chocolate, MSG, aspartame, and herbs that have estrogenic properties, especially soy. Studies found that soy supplements can increase breast cancer risk, especially in post-menopausal women.
o Exercise: Walking and arm swinging will get the lymphatics moving. Decongesting breast tissue will reduces the risk of cancer.
o Eliminate hormones: Discuss options with your physician to eliminate birth control pills and synthetic hormone replacement. The link between hormones and breast cancer has been confirmed.(5)
o Supplements: Many supplements have been shown to have a positive effect on breast tissue. Here are a few examples:
1. DIM (diindolylmethane) the phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables, has anticancer activity and also works to repair damaged DNA.
2. Tumeric (curcumin) kills cancer cells and has strong properties against angiogenesis
3. Drinking green tea or taking green tea extract capsules has been 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 push conventional doctors to do their home work. The new cameras are digital and far superior 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 breast digital scan is the way to go.
(1) Elmore J., Choe J.Breast Cancer Screening for Women in Their 40s: Moving from Controversy about Data to Helping Individual Women. Ann Intern Med. Apr 3;146(7):529-31. 2007. PMID: 17404356
(2) Urbain JL.Breast cancer screening, diagnostic accuracy and health care policies. CMAJ. Jan 18;172(2):210-1. 2005. PMID: 15655243
(3) Ibid. Urbain JL
(4) “Survey Determines Impact Of False-positive Cancer Tests.” Science Daily. July 22, 2007.
(5) “Confirmed: A Link Between Breast Cancer and Hormone Therapy.” Scientific American.com July 26, 2007.
(6) Rahman KW. Gene expression profiling revealed surviving as a target of 3,3′-diindolylmethane-induced cell growth inhibition and apoptosis in breast cancer cells. Cancer Res. 2006 May 1;66(9):4952-60. PMID: 16651453
(7) Mosley CA Highly active anticancer curcumin analogues. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:77-103 PMID: 17569206
(8) Zhang M Green tea and the prevention of breast cancer: a case-control study in Southeast China. Carcinogenesis. 2007 May;28(5):1074-8. Epub 2006 Dec 20 PMID: 17183063