breast cancer, breast cancer screening, mammography, thermography, breast cancer screening options

 

Anyone who regularly sees my posts knows I advocate for a three-prong breast cancer screening approach:

1. Physical exam by health care practitioner

2. MRI (ultrasound follow up if abnormal findings)

3. Thermogram by a board certified thermographer who specializes in breast health. Go to a  thermographer certified in breast thermography. I see Nelly Yefet in Florida because of her credentials and exam protocol to increase accuracy.

Let me add however, that in some cases it’s advisable to get a mammogram in addition to the above. Each screening tool offers a different diagnostic advantage. 

IF YOU CANNOT GET AN MRI AND THERMOGRAM HOWEVER, YOU SHOULD  AT THE VERY LEAST, GET A MAMMOGRAM. 

So why did I decide to ditch the mammogram after all these years?

My decision came after over two years of research and speaking with holistic-centered health practitioners.

Mammogram is still considered the gold standard for breast screening when in fact it misses 20-40% of cancers, particularly in women with dense breasts.

Your doctor won’t opt for the three prong approach and sadly, neither will your insurance company unless your mammogram or ultrasound findings were abnormal.  Most doctors follow the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer screening recomendation: 

  • Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
  • Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care provider. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.

If you ask your doctor to write a script for an MRI or thermogram instead of a mammo, without a family history or prior abnormal findings you’re simply out of luck.

Despite evidence that breast thermography sensitivity and accuracy has improved over 20 years, most doctors still give it a thumbs down.

“In facta study published in 2009 in the Journal of Medical Systems and the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed reported that thermography aided by the latest analytical software sensors is 94.8 percent accurate – or nearly twice as effective as mammography! With more and more recent studies supporting these numbers, it has to make you wonder what the FDA is thinking by refusing to admit the good that it is.”  – Dr. Mercola

Health care practitioners who follow Dr. Mercola and Dr. Christine Northrup, leading experts in natural health and integrative women’s health (respectively) who follow the latest in breast health screening and risk suggest the three prong approach doctor exam, MRI and thermogram.

“Of all imaging methods under investigation (digital mammography, ultrasound and MRI), MRI offered by far the highest sensitivity: MRI identified 93% of breast cancers. 37% of cancers were picked up by ultrasound. The lowest sensitivity was achieved by digital mammography, which identified only one-third of breast cancers (33%). These results confirm once more that MRI is essential for surveillance not only of women at high risk, but also for women at moderately increased risk of breast cancer.

Moreover, the results contradict current guidelines according to which mammography is considered indispensable for breast cancer screening. One aim of the EVA trial was to question this concept and to ask whether it is still appropriate to require that MRI should only be used in addition to mammography. The results speak for themselves: If an MRI is available, then the added value of mammography is literally negligible. Researchers conclude that MRI is necessary as well as sufficient for screening young women at elevated risk of breast cancer. Since mammography appears to be unnecessary in women undergoing MRI, its use is no longer justifiable, and current guidelines should be revised to reflect this.” –  “Breast Cancer Screening: MRI Sensitive, No Added Value with Mammography, Study Suggests,” Science News.

Worrisome MRI findings?

I opted out of a mammogram this year based on advice from my certified breast thermographer. Dr. Yefet told me women put their breasts at risk with repeated year after year after year exposure to radiation (yes low levels but still radiation)….

AND if you did have undetected breast cancer you shouldn’t be compressing the breast tissue……

Moreover, mammogram is virtually useless for DENSE breasts. So, I opted for a thermogram and an MRI instead.

Thermography detects heat and vascular changes. Cancer gives off heat.  I had a mammo last year, a thermo 2 years ago by a Board Certified Medical Thermographer who specializes in women’s breast health. The results were normal but because I had some areas of change on the left breast two years prior, my doctor agreed to write a script for an MRI, in lieu of a mammogram.

I honestly wasn’t worried.

I had the test, sat back and forgot about it because my thermographer reassured me with a minor mention we watch the left breast over time. She told me to come back in a year.

And then the gut wrench.

Last week my doctor’s office called and my nurse practitioner (NP) told me the MRI detected a BI-RADS4 “suspicious abnormality” in my RIGHT breast, the side the thermographer said was perfectly clear.

My stomach dropped.

Every month it seems I hear about another woman I know diagnosed with breast cancer. I can name four I know right off the top of my head (who were treated and are doing very, very well). I kicked into auto pilot and asked my nurse practitioner questions. She could tell I was a bit shell-shocked and quickly reassured me that the finding didn’t mean cancer and the spot “wasn’t bright, high signal” which was a good sign.

The radiologist’s written recommendation:

Follow up with an ultra sound then a sonographic biopsy if they could find the area of concern, and an MRI biopsy if they could not find the area of concerned.

In other words, a biopsy no matter what!? 

Panicked and confused I emailed my thermographer the MRI report (and emailed the radiologist the thermography report).

Two different tests. Two different findings.

To summarize: My radiologist saw a “suspicious abnormality” in my RIGHT breast, nothing in the LEFT.  The thermographer saw nothing in the RIGHT breast and is watching an area of low concern in the LEFT.

Two different findings. 

My thermographer emailed me back within an hour and told me not to worry.

What I decided to do

The ultrasound found nothing.

The  area of concern is too small to be detected on ultrasound.  The radiologist told me despite the thermographer’s report, she doesn’t consider thermography a valid or sensitive, enough, screening tool.

I’m not surprised she said this.  Mainstream medicine discounts vast improvement in thermogram breast screening reliability in the past 20 years  in conjunction with an MRI and doctor’s exam. MRI’s sensitivity picks up EVERYTHING, benign or not.

That biopsy is the only way to know what “it” is for sure.

Six month MRI follow up – clean results

I just had my six month thermogram and MRI follow up. No changes (normal) on the thermogram. And the MRI was clean, meaning everything looks good.

Each woman has to make her own informed decision.  Please get several opinions and several screening tests to provide you with detailed mapping of your breasts before jumping into a biopsy.

Fortunately the radiologist agreed with what I wanted to do, which is:

  1. NO mammogram which is virtually USELESS for DENSE breasts
  2. NO biopsy (although she said if I wanted a sure answer. But, See “Does Biopsy Cause Breast Cancer”, below)
  3. MRI in six months see if area is gone, stable or changed
  4. And I decided, a follow-up thermogram in six months.

In addition, I’m doubling my Vitamin D from 5,000mg a day to nearly 10,000mg a day. See: Vitamin D helps prevent breast cancer.  And last but not least, I’m going to try not to worry. Chronic worry is no good.

What women need to know

  1. Prevention. “10 Tips for Breast Health
  2. Know your screening tools. Understand the pros and cons. Each breast screening modality offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. MRI offers the highest sensitivity.  MRI’s offer detailed images using a combination of radio waves and magnetic fields.
  3.  Be prudent with biopsies.  (see below)
  4. Partner with your doctor to get MRI covered. Insurance won’t budge unless you have a family history, abnormal findings or other risk factors. Get what you deserve.  You pay hefty premiums you deserve screening coverage that benefits YOU, not the insurance company. (It’s highly unlikely you’ll get a thermogram covered. But try. They run about $200-$300.)

Does a biopsy increase breast cancer risk?

In some cases, yes. From the website: Breast Cancer ChoicesBiopsy, FAQ:

“In June 2004, the results of the bombshell Hansen study, “Manipulation of The Primary Breast Tumor and The Incidence of Sentinel Node Metastases From Invasive Breast Cancer,” were published in the American Medical Association’s prestigious journal, Archives of Surgery…..

 

….revealing that patients undergoing  fine needle biopsies were 50% more likely to have micrometastases spread to the  sentinel lymph node than those patients having the entire tumor removed for biopsy. The implication of this discovery is that a woman without lymph node involvement,   who would have been staged at a low-level,  now will be staged higher, her disease considered more advanced, and more aggressive treatment might be recommended. Over the years, several researchers have voiced serious reservations about routine needle biopsies, but they were mostly ignored by their colleagues. “

Going against the norm

It’s unsettling to go against the standard of mainstream screening practices, especially if you get an abnormal finding.  Our entire lives we’ve been taught to worship the whitecoats, that doctors know best. They have the expensive training, right?

Well, yes but….

I’ve met many fine physicians over the years, well-intentioned with outstanding credentials but…the advice they give patients depends on their training, experience and MOST importantly, how they view health and wellness.

Are they mainstream, complementary & integrative or alternative?

I vote for complementary & integrative with a strong emphasis on alternative medicine.  The body knows what it needs. With some gentle guidance and lifestyle, nutrition and supplement changes it will get back into balance.

And, you are NOT destined by your GENES!!

Family history isn’t a sentence for breast cancer. Good thing, since I’m adopted and don’t know my family history.

From the American Cancer Society website:

“About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, resulting directly from gene defects (calledmutations) inherited from a parent. See the section, “Do we know what causes breast cancer?

And please, please, please don’t underestimate the affect our emotional health has on overall well-being. Women, don’t put yourself last. Don’t resent, seethe, stay angry. Ask for help. Insist on help. Let go of doing it “all.”

Let go.

Forgive.

Delegate.

Say no.

Anger turned inward is toxic.

And finally, once you know something that may save lives, you can’t unknow. You have to share. Dr. Yefet, Dr. Mercola and Dr. Northrup and others shared what they’ve learned about breast cancer screening and more importantly, breast cancer prevention.

Now, I’m sharing it with you. Please tell other women. Thank you 🙂

Further reading

Why Mammography is NOT an Effective Breast Cancer Screen – Dr. Mercola

Your Greatest Weapon Against Breast Cancer (not Mammograms) – Dr. Mercola

Fewer Mammograms Making Industry Angry – Dr. Mercola

The Best Breast Test: The Promise of Thermography – Dr. Christine Northrup

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer Prevention. Oprah talks to Dr. Northrup

 “I understand that mammography has been the gold standard for years. Doctors are the most familiar with this test, and many believe that a mammogram is the best test for detecting breast cancer early. But it’s not. Studies show that a thermogram identifies precancerous or cancerous cells earlier, and produces unambiguous results, which cuts down on additional testing–and it doesn’t hurt the body. Isn’t this what women really want?” – Dr. Christine Northrup

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments on Why I’m opting out of mammograms and opting into THIS breast cancer screening approach.

  1. Kelly Rodriguez says:

    Dear Laura:

    Who is your radiologist? I live in Florida as well and I am a breast cancer survivor. I had a bad experience with mammogram and refuse to do another. I prefer also an MRI and thermography. I was recommended a needle aspiration because I have a fluid filled cyst. I do not wish to have that procedure either. However, I am constantly battling doctors and looking for one that is more willing to work with me. If you have any suggestions. I would appreciate it very much.

    • Laura G Owens says:

      Hi Kelly,

      Congratulations on being a breast cancer survivor.

      My Imaging Center was Women’s Center for Radiology in Orlando. They have two locations. The key is however, to get your doctor to write you a prescription for MRI in lieu of mammogram. I had enough justification that I could indeed, do that. Years back I had an abnormal mammo (twice) and had an ultrasound. My integrative doctor was kind enough to write me a script for mammo. You can also get a script for a breast thermogram. Be very very very careful who does that. Make sure it’s done by a certified BREAST thermographer with proper credentials, none of these spas etc. My thermographer is a bit unique in that in addition to the imaging, she has her patients put their hands in ice water (not pleasant I warn) for a brief period to bring your body temp down. She can look at heat images before the ice, after. Her name is Nelly Yefet out of the Miami area. I’m sure if you email her practice, she’d be happy to explain her protocol. Spirit Mountain Healing Arts Center.

      Let me add as well, the importance of optimizing your Vitamin D levels. I suggest you follow the Vitamin D Councils recommendations for dosing, Dr. Cannell.

      All the best,
      Laura

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