Mammogram Alternatives – What To Do Instead
My main goal as a breast cancer coach is to share with you the best ways of keeping yourself free of breast cancer. And I’m sorry, but having “routine”, yearly mammograms is definitely NOT part of that goal. So today I’m going to provide you with some mammogram alternatives, three things you can do instead of having mammograms.
Why Do I Hate Mammograms?
I hate mammograms, not only because they are incredibly uncomfortable, but because they are associated with an increased risk of cancer due to the high doses of radiation received during each screening. They are NOT saving lives, in fact, I would argue that millions of women are putting themselves at a higher risk each year by having these screenings done on healthy, non-cancerous tissue.
Another problem is the false positives which often result from routine mammogram screenings. False positives can lead to expensive repeat screenings (and even more radiation), and can often result in unnecessary invasive procedures such as biopsies, surgery, radiation and even chemotherapy. Not to mention the stress encountered when you are going through these things.
In May 2014, the New England Journal of Medicine released their article Abolishing Mammography Screening Programs? A View From the Swiss Medical Board concluding that mammography screening is “hard to justify”. International studies have been carried out on the efficacy of mammograms, and the results of those studies is making it clear that mammogram screening is not doing what it was designed to do – save lives. Instead, people are being over-diagnosed and over-treated for things like DCIS which – in most cases – would never lead to invasive, life-threatening cancer.
At what point are we going to stop recommending mammography screening, pay attention to the science that clearly indicates it isn’t working, and do something else?
Dr Christine Horner’s Perspective
I recently had the good fortune to listen in on an interview with Dr Christine Horner, a doctor I have long admired for all she has done to promote natural healing and breast cancer prevention. Dr Horner recommends that we do a combination of 3 tests that are much less invasive, have no associated risks or side effects, and can actually be preventative. None of those things can be said about mammograms. These 3 things are, especially when used in combination, extremely accurate:
1. Ultrasound. Ultrasound screening is non-invasive, safe and painless. Sound waves – also called sonography – are used to produce pictures of the inside of the breast. A small transducer (probe) and ultrasound gel is placed on the surface of the skin, then high-frequency sound waves are transmitted from the probe through the gel into the breast. The transducer collects the sounds that bounce back and a computer then uses those sound waves to create an image. Because ultrasound images are captured in real time, they can show the structure and movement of the body’s internal organs, as well as blood flowing through vessels.
2. Monthly Physical Exam. If you haven’t become accustomed to doing a monthly self-exam, this is something you probably should consider. If you aren’t quite sure how to do one, see my article How To Do A Monthly Breast Self Exam. Since most women find their own breast lumps, learning how to do the self exam once per month is definitely worth the time and effort. Put it on your calendar or in your smart phone for a certain day each month (please do it now!).
3. Thermography. I have written a few articles about thermography – see them all in my category Thermography. Thermal imaging (approved by the FDA) uses a special infrared sensitive camera to digitally record images of the surface temperature of the body. Any abnormal variations in surface body temperature are indicators that a tumor may be growing in that region. Research has shown that the metabolic activity and vascular changes of developing tumors is higher and that results in an increase in surface body temperature compared to normal, healthy breast tissue. Thermography is far more accurate in detecting breast cancer and it can do so YEARS earlier than can mammography. For instance, it can detect tumor cells that are about the size of a single grain of rice, and mammography is still not that good. When tumors that small are detected, patients have nearly a much better chance of long-term survival.
These three methods are very effective, not terribly expensive, and quite safe.
British Medical Journal: Twenty five year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality of the Canadian National Breast Screening Study: randomised screening trial
New England Journal of Medicine: Abolishing Mammography Screening Programs? A View From the Swiss Medical Board
Dr Mercola: Your Greatest Weapon Against Breast Cancer (Not Mammograms)
Breast Cancer Action: Early Detection Saves Lives: A Flawed Philosophy Even With 3D Mammography by Sahru Keiser
Pubmed.gov: Effectiveness of a noninvasive digital infrared thermal imaging system in the detection of breast cancer
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Dear Marnie, Thank you so much for sending me this article. Now all I have to do is find a hospital that will perform those alternatives to mammogram mentioned in this article. I’m not sure there is anyone qualified in the Windsor area to perform/review these alternatives. I will make an appointment with my OB/GYN asap! I will certainly pass this information on to all the women I know!
Thanks for your comment. Yes – finding the alternatives can be tricky and if you need some help with that, please let me know. I appreciate you spreading the word, that’s fabulous.
Great article. Thanks. I agree self breast exam is very necessary. My understanding of thermography is that it is not a definitive tool. It detects hot areas that need to be further investigated with ultrasound or mammagram. Am I wrong as our government health plan in Canada doesn’t cover it. A breast thermogram costs $200-250. The others are free.
Yes you are correct in that thermography detects the heat signature of a developing tumor, also inflammation. Not many governments DO cover it, unfortunately, but I just tuck money away from month to month so that I can pay for these sorts of things. To me, it’s worth it. Hope that info helps.
I had a regular yearly thermography the last one Nov 2018 and Jan 2019 a 2.6 cm tumour was found on an ultrasound. How often do the thermographies miss tumors in the breast. Will the radiation and surgery have an effect on the effectiveness of thermography in the future.
Thanks for your message. To answer your question, thermography can miss smaller tumors sometimes, that’s true. It can occur about as often as it can with mammography – neither option is perfect, in other words. No detection method has been offered to us, so far, that is 100% correct. That’s why it is recommended to combine it with ultrasound technology, as well as checking breasts monthly yourself.
I just finished radiation for stage 2A breast cancer. I didn’t need chemo. Feeling good so far.
My surgeon’s office called to set up a follow exam and mammogram for 6 months from now.
I’ve had so many mammos, two ultrasounds, 3 stereotactic biopsies and don’t want to do any more mammograms , especially with all the new research coming out on the dangers of this diagnostic practice. Have you had follow up mammograms after your surgery? If so how often? Did you go other diagnostic tests that you felt were accurate and safe? Thanks so much. Karen
You are right to be concerned about the radiation caused by mammograms. I have just sent you a private email with answers to your questions.
Hi. I am due an annual mammogram after a lumpectomy grade 1 and total alnd 4/21 after radioactive scans and cr scans were found to be all clear after op – now mammogram – but I too feel this is too invasive/painful – I have asked about ultrasound, but was told this produces too many false positives – thermography – oncologist not convinced – my gut feeling is to try a different approach – I live in North West England , could you please help point me in the right direction. Thank you
Hi Pauline, sorry for the delay in responding. Despite the fact that your oncologist is not convinced about thermography (and most of them feel that way), it is still our best way forward, along with the other methods in this post. Ultrasound may indeed produce more false positives but it’s still a good detection method that isn’t so invasive and produces no potentially harmful radiation. Are you subscribed to my free newsletters so that you can learn what things you can do to help yourself heal and be recurrence-free? Just sign up from any page on my site, over on the far right-hand side of the page.