1. New mammogram brings new risk

    It wasn't too long ago that mammograms seemed like they were finally on the ropes.

    Now, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the doctor, mammograms are back with a vengeance--and with a new machine.

    The feds have just signed off on the Selenia Dimensions System, a mammogram device that delivers 3-D images of the breast... along with double the radiation of the traditional screening.

    The machine's makers say it'll make it easier for doctors to spot tumors in the 10 percent of women who often need a second screening--a sure sign that some women will actually get triple the usual radiation: one from their traditional mammogram, and then that double dose from the new machine.

    And if the machine saved lives, I'd say bring it on. But let's face it: That's not what's going to happen here.

    The machine is supposed to improve detection by 7 percent--which means what will really happen is a 7 percent increase in treatments.

    And you can bet that won't lead to a 7 percent increase in survival--because decades of increased screenings and treatments hasn't made a mark on overall survival rates.

    Now, even some mainstream voices have recognized that, calling for new limits on mammograms and even an end to the practice for many women.

    But they're being shouted down by organizations that have too much at stake in keeping things just as they are: doctors, surgeons and even some of the charities and "survivors' groups" that trade in cancer fears.

    And while they work to ensure that women continue to get screened and treated, cancer patients continue to suffer from stress, radiation, dangerous drugs and disfiguring surgeries that do far more harm than the tumor ever will.

    One new study even finds that women who "survive" breast cancer face a higher risk of hip fractures years later.

    It's not because of the cancer... but because of the treatments, especially chemo and common cancer drugs.

    Researchers at Northwestern University's Bone Health and Osteoporosis Center say they noticed six relatively young women--all in their early 50s--who suffered the types of hip fractures that are usually seen in elderly osteoporosis patients.

    All six had one thing in common: a history of breast cancer treatments.

    One of the women already had osteoporosis, while the other five had osteopenia--a bone-thinning condition that's not quite as bad. Yet.

    The researchers couldn't pin the fractures on a specific cause--it could have been the radiation, it could have been the meds, or it could have been both.

    But whatever it was, it could have been prevented--because these women never needed those toxic treatments in the first place.

  2. The MRI Myth

    Many people have this belief that new technology is better because, well, it's new technology.

    But sometimes, new isn't better – it's just new.

    There's no question that MRIs have changed the way breast cancer is diagnosed and, as a result, how the patients who get them consider their treatment options.

    But have MRIs been better than mammograms? No.

    Consider this: The latest research shows that MRIs increase the likelihood of more aggressive treatment. But they don't increase the odds of a longer life – women who get the MRIs and women who don't have virtually identical survival rates.

    MRIs don't help with recurrences, either. Women who get them are no more likely to avoid future tumors.

    According to commentary published in August in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, women who get MRIs as part of their breast cancer diagnosis are more likely to undergo mastectomy, in which the breast is removed, instead of a lumpectomy and radiation, in which much of the breast can be spared.

    MRIs pick up between 3 percent and 5 percent more tumors than mammograms – but it's unclear whether these tumors are more likely to be cancerous or benign. But one thing is clear: They do appear to alter the way women think about their cancer diagnosis.

    The researchers speculate that MRI images may cause women increased anxiety, especially when they see those extra tumors pop up, and that causes many of them to opt for the more aggressive treatments, even when they aren't necessary.

    The problem is not that aggressive treatments don't save lives – they clearly do. The problem is separating the small number of women who need them from the many who don't. These treatments are disruptive and life-altering events – and women who can safely avoid them, should.

    If MRIs are not helping to distinguish between these two groups, then they're not better. And if more women are undergoing mastectomies when they don't really need them because of this technology, then they're worse.

    Many men hear the words "prostate cancer" and panic. They want the most aggressive treatment possible – surgery – because they think they need it.

    But some of them don't.

    Like breast cancer surgeries, prostate cancer surgeries are life-altering events that come with some very unpleasant and even traumatic side effects. Some men who undergo prostate cancer surgery face incontinence and sexual side effects.

    Whether it's prostate cancer or breast cancer, if it makes sense for you to avoid these surgeries, you should.

    Your quality of life is at stake.

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