How do you take one of the most unreliable tests out there – a mammogram — and make it even worse?
Just ask any woman who’s received a letter after having one, saying that they have “dense breast tissue” and need to contact their doctor right away.
Now, a new so-called study (one done by calling names picked out of the phone book!), concludes that women who have this very common – and perfectly normal condition — need even more mammograms.
It’s a last-ditch effort to keep pushing the routine use of this risky test — while more and more experts are saying “enough already!” On top of that, doctors can’t even agree on what a “dense breast” diagnosis is to begin with.
What’s obvious is that flimsy research designed to encourage even more women to get unreliable and risky mammograms is about the last thing we need.
Dialing for dollars
Thanks to a law passed in Connecticut seven years ago — soon followed by laws in another 24 states — if your radiologist believes you have dense breasts, you must receive a follow-up letter telling you that.
But even the mainstream head of the American Cancer Society calls that law “legislating something that we don’t totally understand.”
Dense breast tissue is one of those issues that even experts can’t give us a reliable answer on. Can it increase your risk of breast cancer? As I told you several months ago, maybe, or maybe not. It’s a wild guess.
What we do know, however, is that dense breasts — which means less fatty and more fibrous breast tissue — are extremely common. Around 50 percent of women in the U.S. have them, and as you age, your breast density increases.
But some researchers are attempting to turn it into a rallying cry to keep mammograms on the map. Or, as one calls it, “a national movement” to increase awareness.
Jennifer Harvey, with the University of Virginia Breast Care Program in Charlottesville, Virginia recently conducted a study – by phone. She and her team contacted over a thousand women whose names they picked at random to ask them questions about dense breasts.
Turns out, only 5 percent of the women they called could “correctly answer” three questions about this issue.
And out of that stellar “research,” she reached this far-fetched conclusion: Women with dense breasts need to make doubly sure they get enough mammograms.
But here’s the thing — it also turns out that if Harvey had been dialing doctors, she probably wouldn’t have gotten any better results!
For example, Dr. Christoph Lee, who is an associate professor of radiology at the University of Washington, said that “it remains uncertain what women should do…if anything” when told they have dense breasts.
He also commented that the actual risk it poses is still unclear and that it’s a risk factor that’s “overshadowed” by many others, such as a family history of breast cancer. And even determining if a woman has dense breasts to begin with isn’t anything you can depend on.
When dozens of radiologists all over the country were asked to examine 200,000 mammograms, they were all over the place in picking out the ones which were confirmed as showing dense breast tissue.
So here, we’ve got a remarkably common issue among women, which may or may not raise your cancer risk. And it’s one that radiologists can’t even come to any kind of consensus on diagnosing.
That certainly gives us a lot of confidence now, doesn’t it?
But despite all that, and the fact that the whole “problem” with dense breast tissue in the first place is that it makes it more difficult to read a mammogram, it’s being used as a launch pad to promote mammography even more.
Make no mistake: If you receive one of those “dense breast” letters after a mammogram it can be just the beginning.
Because now you can look forward to more anxiety and more tests that will expose you to more radiation. You may even decide to go for surgery.
And you may have never needed any of it in the first place.
Written by and published by Health Sciences Institute ~ November 8, 2016.
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