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According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than one in three adult men has heart disease. Men around the age of 55 years are more likely than women to experience a heart attack.  Men often ignore the symptoms of a heart attack because they are uncertain about what they are feeling and don’t want to be embarrassed by a simple diagnosis, such as heartburn. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 percent of men who die from coronary heart disease....


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90,000 women concluded mammography did not reduce breast cancer deaths at all.

 “Find it early; save your life.” This dominant message in mammogram campaigns offers comfort that there is something women can do to protect themselves from a scary disease. The message implies that finding early-stage breast cancer means preventing death. If this were true, mammograms would be the only reasonable choice because finding breast cancer early is what mammograms do best. As this message became entrenched into public psyches and policies, scientific evidence was showing the message was flawed.

Breast cancer becomes lethal because it has metastasized (spread tumors around the body). More than 30 years ago when screening began, doctors assumed the disease progressed in a predictable, step-by-step manner, believing every tumor grew steadily until it invaded other parts of the body. If all cancers behaved like this, finding and treating small tumors early would prevent its spread and lethality. Scientists now understand breast cancer is not one disease but many, and different types can behave in a variety of ways.

H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth College, likens these cancer behavior patterns to animals someone is trying to keep in a barnyard: Some cancers act like turtles, moving too slowly to ever pose harm. Other cancers act like dodos; they regress and disappear on their own. Some cancers are like rabbits that hop and cause damage in other areas of the body but are stoppable if caught in time. The deadliest cancers are like birds cannot be captured or stopped.

Although mammograms are truly helpful for 30 percent of breast cancer cases, the problem is there is no way to distinguish rabbits from turtles, dodos and birds. When a mammogram finds something, there’s no way of knowing whether the patient is the one in 1,000 women whose life is at stake or one of the five or six in 1,000 women with something that will remain harmless. Researchers are trying to find a way to distinguish the types of breast cancers, but in the meantime the reaction is to treat anything that is found.


An analysis published in the journal JAMA in 2014 shows the six possible outcomes of a mammogram. If 10,000 women have annual mammograms for 10 years, starting at the age of 50, the numbers would break down like this:

•  6,130 women will get called back for more testing for something a doctor will ultimately deem not to be cancer

•  3,568 women will have clean mammogram results over the course of the decade

•  302 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer

Of the women diagnosed with  breast cancer:

•  173 will survive the cancer, regardless of whether they were screened or not

•  62 will die of breast cancer, despite having a mammogram

•  57 will be diagnosed with a cancer that would have never hurt them

•  10 will avoid dying of breast cancer

What scientists know but most patients don’t is that mammography isn’t the infallible tool we want it to be. In fact, the harder one looks, the more cancers one will find – but most will be harmless and will never threaten any woman’s life.

When an anomaly is found on a mammogram screening, a biopsy follows. Good news comes for some women when the biopsy results reveal no sign of cancer. But what is the actual screening result?

Most of the time, the result is “indicative of cancer” and it is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Few experts considers DCIS a cancer; it only has a small chance of ever progressing into an invasive cancer.

There are things that can look like cancer on a mammogram or biopsy but do not act like cancer in the body. They do not invade and proliferate in other organs. At present, there are no tools to distinguish between harmless cells and deadly ones. Unfortunately, some medical tests compel doctors to categorize merely suspicious cells in with the most dangerous cancers. While this approach does save some lives, many women wind up with treatments – including mastectomies – they do not need.

Mammography has been a contentious issue for the past 25 years.



Angela is a staff writer for Health & Wellness magazine.

more articles by Angela s. hoover

In 1993, the National Cancer Institute dropped its recommendation that women in their 40s get screenings after finding sparse evidence of benefits. Ever since, the debate has mostly centered on what age women should start getting mammograms.

A 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine calculated mammograms have over-diagnosed 1.3 million American women over the past 30 years. Most of these women had some form of treatment ranging from lumpectomies to double mastectomies, often with radiation and chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, for an anomaly that would never have bothered them. Additionally, these treatments come with their own dangers. Receiving radiation for breast cancer can slightly increase your risk of heart disease and lung cancer. Chemotherapy may damage the heart, and tamoxifen doubles the risk of endometrial cancer. In a 2013 paper published in the medical journal BMJ, breast surgeon Michael Baum estimated that for every breast cancer death thwarted by mammography, we can expect an additional one to three deaths from causes such as lung cancer and heart attacks linked to breast cancer treatments. Last year, results from a 25-year follow-up of two landmark studies tracking about