Mammograms – the Costs

Published on October 19, 2007 in Womens Health


All mammograms are x-rays

A mammogram uses radioactive rays to “see” breast tissues. X-rays are known to cause DNA damage in breast cells.

A diagnostic mammogram is used when a woman or her practitioner feels a lump and wants to see it. (Sonograms – a non-radioactive test – can be used instead.) Most diagnostic mammograms are not one x-ray, but a series of x-rays.

A screening mammogram is done on a healthy woman to determine if there are unsuspected signs of cancer, such as a shadow or micro-calcifications. A screening mammogram is not one x-ray, but a series of x-rays, usually two per breast, four in all.

Mammograms distract us from the need for societal commitment to true prevention

Many of the cancers found by mammographic screening are in situ cancers. Women with in situ cancers rarely die from them. With or without early detection and treatment, 93% survive more than five years. When in situ breast cancers are found by mammogram, treated, and added to the statistical base, breast cancer cure rates and longevity statistics improve. No wonder mammography is praised. It has done what decades of research into cures for breast cancer have failed to do: make it appear that there is some progress in stemming the tide of breast cancer. But finding and treating an ever-increasing number of breast cancers isn’t real progress; committing to reducing chemical and radioactive pollution is.

Yearly screening mammograms aren’t cost effective to society nor are they safe environmentally

The Southern Medical Journal reports that the cost effectiveness (defined as the number of dollars spent so one person can live one year longer) of mammograms for women under 55 is $82,000. A recent analysis found that it cost $195,000 to detect one breast cancer using screening mammograms.
Dr. Charles Wright of Vancouver General Hospital estimates that the cost of saving one life by mass screening is $1.25 million (Canadian).

The mammography industry could gross $1 billion per year if every woman aged 40-49 was screened yearly. Less than 10% of all breast cancers occur in women that age.

Choosing screening mammograms means I choose to contribute to the stream of low-level radioactive waste leaving hospitals. Will my mammogram increase my daughter’s risk of developing breast cancer by increasing the amount of radioactivity in her environment? What is the real cost of this choice?

Green Blessings.


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