Do You Really Need a Mammogram?
By Susun S. Weed
(Editor’s note: According to a recent article in the Washington Post examining the “intense new debate about mammography,” “Although there is strong evidence that routine mammography for women in their fifties and older reduces the breast cancer death rate, the benefit of screening women in their forties remains the subject of intense dispute. Nevertheless, leading cancer organizations recommend that women routinely undergo the procedure beginning in their forties in the hopes of catching cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.” Consider all the factors carefully before deciding to have a screening mammogram.)
Perhaps no aspect of breast cancer is more widely publicized than screening mammography. Ads on television, in magazines and in the daily paper urge women to deal with fear about breast cancer by having a yearly mammogram. We’re even told that doing this is a way to “really care for yourself.”
But screening mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer. A mammogram is an X-ray, and X-rays cause cancer. The ads promoting regular screening mammography are paid for by those who stand to profit from their widespread acceptance and use: the manufacturers of the equipment and X-ray film. Whose health does this technology really benefit? Women’s health -- or corporate health?
Who needs screening mammograms?
Should women have screening mammograms? At what age? How frequently? Science hasn’t agreed on answers to these questions. My anti-cancer lifestyle (see page xv in Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way) will decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer in a way that regular mammograms won’t. I care for my breasts with infused herbal oils, regular loving touch, organic foods and healthy exercise -- and I forgo regular screening mammograms.
If you decide to have a mammogram, here’s how to protect yourself and get the most out of it.
Get the best, even if it means a long journey.
Go somewhere that specializes in mammograms, preferably where they do at least 20 mammograms a day.
Be sure the facility is accredited by the American College of Radiology.
Insist on personnel who specialize in mammograms. (Taking and reading mammograms are skills that require intensive training and a lot of practice.)
Ask how old the equipment is. Newer equipment exposes the breasts to less radiation. A dedicated unit (one specifically for mammograms) is best.
Ask how they ensure quality control. When was their unit calibrated?
Load your blood with carotenes to prevent radiation damage to your DNA by eating a cup of cooked sweet potato, winter squash or carrots every day for a week before the mammogram.
Expect to be cold and uncomfortable during the mammogram, but do say something if you’re being hurt.
The more compressed the breast tissue, the clearer the mammogram. (But pressure may spread cancer cells if they are present.)
If your breasts are tender, reschedule. During your fertile years, schedule mammograms for seven to 10 days after your menstrual flow begins.
Don’t wear antiperspirant containing aluminum, which can interfere with the imaging process. (Those clear stones do contain aluminum, as do most commercial antiperspirants.)
If you want another opinion, you’ll need the original mammography films, not copies. (X ray facilities only keep films for 7 years.)
Get your doctor to agree in writing before the procedure to give you a copy of your mammogram. The U.S. Public Health Service advises women to ask for written results from a mammogram.
Given the high percentage of “false normal” mammograms, if you think you have cancer, trust your intuition.
Remove radioactive isotopes from your body with burdock root, seaweed or miso.
Remember: Mammograms don’t promote breast health. Breast self-massage, breast self-exam and lifestyle changes do.
Try this meditation for healthy breasts
Sit comfortably in front of a large mirror in a warm, private space. Bare your breasts. Look in the mirror. Tell your breasts something like: “I love you. You are just the way you are supposed to be. I see your perfection. I know your beauty. I honor your power.” Use your own words. Repeat as many times as you like.
When you are done, close your eyes. Slowly bring your hands up and cup them under your breasts. Say: “My breasts are healthy. My breasts are powerful.” Open your eyes and look at yourself in the mirror, saying, “My breasts are my strength. My strength nourishes me and others.” Close your eyes and let your hands return to your lap. Sit quietly and breathe as you visualize glowing pink clouds within your breasts spiraling in toward your nipples for a minute. Continuing to breathe; let this sparkling pink energy spiral out for a minute. As you breathe, imagine the energy doing figure eights from breast to breast for a minute.
Finally, imagine that you are plunging your hands into vibrant pink energy. Feel it flowing up your arms, through your armpits and out of your nipples. Open your eyes, smile at yourself in the mirror and come out of the meditation.
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Susun Weed has been living the simple life for more than 30 years as an herbalist, goat keeper, homesteader and feminist. See more about Susun.