Breast health centers, affiliated with medical centers around the U.S., are up in arms. Breast imaging radiologists are about to lose one third of their clients because a federal advisory panel just said that women, younger than 50, should not have an annual or bi-annual mammogram.
With fewer mammograms being given, oncologists are also going to see a sharp drop in their income from “Stage Zero” or “ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)” , also called “atypical breast cells ” patients. These small, non cancerous, often calcified, portions of a milk duct, can only be found by using an x-ray. But atypical cells, or Stage Zero breast cancer, or DCIS, is the predominant diagnosis among women in their 40’s who have annual screening mammograms.
Given the misnomer, “stage zero breast cancer” (stage zero means that you don’t have breast cancer), the U.S. cancer industry often treats these irregular cells as though they are cancerous, with surgeons performing biopsies, lumpectomies, recommending radiation and estrogen-lowering drugs, and even suggesting the idea of single or double mastectomies if patients want to avoid further treatment or eliminate any risks of developing invasive breast cancer in the future. Foul ball!
At a national conference on DCIS this past September, experts agreed that we know next to nothing about these atypical cells, except how to find them. The National Breast Cancer Coalition is recommending changing the term DCIS to “atypical hyperplasia,” in order to lower the fear factor that now strikes women when told they have a “ductal carcinoma in situ” or “stage zero breast cancer.” It would be nice if honesty about these non-cancerous cells could see the light of day.
Meanwhile, until last week, the U.S. was the only nation in the world that encouraged, or even allowed women during their 40’s, to go near a mammography machine. Over the years, Canadian and European medical practitioners have watched the U.S. mammogram policy in disbelief.
Here is an email I received a few weeks ago from Paula, a 50 year old mother of two, diagnosed with DCIS after having an annual screening mammogram in 2007.
“You may not remember me but I was one of those women who were at one of your first meetings who broke down in tears after having just learned we had breast cancer. …. I went on to research my diagnosis and options.
It turns out I had a very low grade slow growing in situ for which I had a lumpextory (sic). I refused radiation and refused to take tamoxifen — much to the chagrin of my doctors. I am recurrence free after 2 years and continually fighting all the recommended MRI’s (toxic dye solutions) and most of those additional mammograms they keep trying to give me. I am probably one of those over-diagnosed and over-treated women who are swelling the ranks of “breast cancer” survivors.”
Now that women like Paula will be spared annual screening mammograms in their 40’s, those hospital- sponsored “breast health centers” , that have sprouted up around the country, stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues, as Paula, along with a huge chunk of their youngest clients disappear.
More women should read the full report on what participants at that recent national conference had to say about what we don’t know about DCIS and what we need to know about DCIS or “Stage Zero” breast cancer.