May 6, 2013. New York. Last week, author Peggy Orenstein published a report in the New York Times that caused controversy in the billion-dollar breast cancer awareness industry. Orenstein, who is herself a two-time breast cancer survivor, announces that after years of publicly promoting mammograms for younger women, she’s changed her position. Here’s why.
As detailed in the New York Times account, Orenstein went for her first mammogram in 1996 at age 35. Her plan was to start getting annual mammograms upon turning 40. She had no history of cancer in her family and no apparent risk factors. So the whole thing didn’t seem like a really big deal at the time, until the doctor found a strange growth inside her breast. According to Peggy, it wasn’t even a lump – more like a wagon-wheel shape with spokes.
Looking back, she explains her thought process at the time, “The system worked precisely as it should: the mammogram caught my tumor early, and I was treated with a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation; I was going to survive.” Today, after writing a number of pro-mammogram pieces for the same New York Times, Peggy Orenstein has changed her position.
“Sixteen years later, my thinking has changed,” she says to a shocked breast cancer awareness movement, “As study after study revealed the limits of screening — and the dangers of overtreatment — a thought niggled at my consciousness. How much had my mammogram really mattered?” As it turns out, it may not have mattered at all.
The reasons Peggy Orenstein has withdrawn her support for mammograms for younger women is laid out in decades worth of studies and research from around the globe. To put it in its simplest form, statistics show that the dangerous and deadly treatments prescribed after false positives from early mammograms far outnumber the lives saved from early diagnosis and successful treatment.
“Recently, a survey of three decades of screening published in November in The New England Journal of Medicine found that mammography’s impact is decidedly mixed,” Orenstein recalls, “It does reduce, by a small percentage, the number of women who are told they have late-stage cancer, but it is far more likely to result in overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment, including surgery, weeks of radiation and potentially toxic drugs.”
Yahoo Shine summarized the lengthy report and captured some of the facts and figures that appear to back Orenstein up. One statistic is the fact that breast cancer deaths are down by 25%. While that’s true, it may be due to advances in treatments and not due to early detection. Proving that theory, one study showed how in countries where mammography was introduced 10 to 15 years apart, the mortality rate over that time remained identical, suggesting mammograms had no impact.
Illustrating the dangerous and deadly ramifications of mammograms in younger women, another study looked at 600,000 women from around the world. For every 2,000 women screened annually for ten years, one life is prolonged. But out of those same 2,000 women, ten healthy women are misdiagnosed and forced to endure treatments like lumpectomies, radiation and even toxic pharmaceuticals. Peggy Orenstein reminds readers that the current drugs used to treat breast cancer, including Tamoxifen, are linked to strokes, blood clots and even uterine cancer.
The money-making mammography machine
With a seemingly contemptuous tone, Peggy Orenstein takes foundations like Susan G. Komen to task. According to CharityNavigator.org, the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Foundation took in $342,373,526 in FY2012. That’s the revenue from one breast cancer foundation in just one year. The details also show that the staff members of the foundation kept as salaries $22,046,214. That amount pales compared to the haul the foundation’s fundraisers pocketed - $37,957,388. And those amounts reflect only one year, 2012.
“And yet, mammography remains an unquestioned pillar of the pink-ribbon awareness movement,” Orenstein questions, “Just about everywhere I go — the supermarket, the dry cleaner, the gym, the gas pump, the movie theater, the airport, the florist, the bank, the mall — I see posters proclaiming that “early detection is the best protection” and “mammograms save lives.” But how many lives, exactly, are being “saved,” under what circumstances and at what cost?”
The report continues, documenting how in 2011 the Susan G. Komen Foundation raked in $472 million, but only put 16% of that money toward research for a cure for breast cancer. The authors found that amount troubling considering the Komen Foundation trademarked and adopted the phrase, “for the cure”.
As much as anything, Peggy Orenstein fears the massive marketing campaigns, the billions of dollars being made and the over-hyping of breast cancer awareness has caused somewhat of a terror campaign on young girls across America. Not only have preemptive mastectomies jumped 188% in recent years, but unnecessary and deadly treatments are on the rise as more and more young women receive false positives.
“There’s no reason for anyone—let alone young girls—to perform monthly self-exams,” Orenstein says, “The Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no difference in the number of cancers discovered, the stage of disease or mortality rates between women who were given intensive instruction in monthly self-exams and women who were not.”
Peggy Orenstein illustrates the hysteria by making one simple comparison. “A 20-year-old woman has about a .06 percent chance of developing breast cancer in the next decade—roughly the same as for a man in his 70s. And no one is telling him to ‘check your boobies.’”
Read Peggy Orenstein’s special report in the New York Times for further information.
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