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  • Dr. Allissa Gaul


I have to admit, I wince every time I hear a woman at low risk for breast cancer proudly announce that she does a mammogram every year. Why? For a few key reasons:

  1. For every modern mammogram, you will be exposed to 0.25 to 1 rad per exposure times 4 (because there are typically 4 views). That means that you will likely be exposed to a minimum of 1 rad. It is thought that 1 rad of exposure will increase your risk of breast cancer by 1-2%. The range is based on different studies showing different results – radiation exposure increases cancer risk, you’re just never quite sure how much, and the damage is considered cumulative.

  2. Even the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Medicine doesn’t want low risk women performing unneeded mammography because it does not substantially improve breast cancer diagnosis or outcome. Their 2011 recommendations are as follows:

  • No routine mammography for women aged 40-49 because the risk of cancer is low in this group while the risk of false–positive results and over-diagnosis and overtreatment is higher

  • Routine screening with mammography every two to three years for women aged 50-69

  • Routine screening with mammography every two to three years for women aged 70-74

  • No screening of average-risk women using MRI

  • No routine clinical breast exams or breast self-exam to screen for breast cancer.

3. There are other ways of getting useful data about breast tissue. Thermography is one of them. Thermography is the use of a heat sensitive camera to take picture of breast tissue. A thermogram can indicate functional data about a breast -- it can tell us what the circulation is like inside the breast tissue and whether or not that pattern may indicate a focal change in the blood supply to supply a tumor. It may also indicate whether or not there are patterns indicative of poor breast tissue function as in fibrocystic breast tissue changes or cysts.

Don’t forget that your breast tissue health is affected by your diet, your toxin and radiation exposure, your hormonal balance, your stress level, your caffeine intake, your water intake, what bra you wear and how you exercise. These factors are under your direct control and the choices that you make can have a huge impact on your risks.

There are women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer that may need more screening earlier. Those who have a mother or sister with breast cancer, those who have the BRCA gene mutations, and those who have previously been treated with radiation need their risks assessed in a different manner than those without these factors affecting them. That said, they may be screened with thermography as well in addition to mammography.

Ask us to evaluate your breast cancer risk factors at your next appointment.

I promise not to wince.

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