(NaturalNews) It’s a long-simmering question that has now turned into a full-blown controversy: What is the real value of mammograms if 33 percent of the cancers found during the procedure aren’t deadly but lead to poisoning chemotherapy or worse, breast removal, anyway?
A new study that examined three decades’ worth of government health data that as many as one-third of cancers that were found via routine mammograms may not be life-threatening, raising once again the question about the value and benefits of traditional breast cancer screening.
Researchers said that, based on the data examined, more than one million women could have been wrongly over-diagnosed with breast cancer, thereby exposing them needlessly to the angst that comes with the diagnosis, as well as the traditional healthcare treatments for the disease.
“It’s a lot of women. It’s a very substantial harm,” said Dr. Gilbert Welch of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice in New Hampshire, according to Reuters.
As expected, proponents of mammograms from the medical-industrial complex have already begun criticizing the study’s findings, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Proponents essentially have said that, while mammograms aren’t perfect, their benefits still outweigh the risks.
Welch, who conducted his study in conjunction with Dr. Archie Bleyer of St. Charles Health System in Oregon, has made over-diagnosis a primary focus of his research. Earlier, in a separate study, he concluded that as many as one million men had been over-diagnosed with prostate cancer since the introduction of the heavily used PSA test in 1986.
His conclusions contradict the deeply institutionalized belief within the medical community that cancer screening is always good because it saves lives – but the idea that this is gospel is increasingly being challenged by studies like those performed by Welch which are taking a hard look at the harms of such screening.
“We’re not the first to suggest this, and it has come at a very huge human cost – the cost of telling a large number of women they have cancer and treating women for cancer with chemotherapy and radiation and surgery,” Welch told Reuters.
Some adjustments have been made, but not enough
Though the medical-industrial complex has lashed out at every opportunity, research appears to be taking its toll on institutionalized treatment orthodoxy.
In 2009, for instance, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a government-supported advisory panel, issued new guidelines suggesting women begin routine mammogram screenings at age 50 instead of 40, “in part because the tests have such high false positive rates and the benefits in lives saved did not outweigh the worry and anguish caused by the false positive results,” said Reuters.
The panel’s conclusion, based in large part on a review of published studies, went against years of accepted norm regarding the need for routine breast cancer screenings beginning at age 40. The recommendation triggered a vocal backlash from doctors, advocacy groups and even vote-seeking lawmakers who insisted the tests saved lives and were therefore worth any risk of false positives that may occur from time to time.
The medical-industrial complex even fought back with a study of its own. A supposedly independent panel of advisors in Britain who ostensibly reviewed data from 11 studies supported critics of the task force, saying that for every 10,000 50-year-old women asked to get a mammogram over the next two decades, screening would prevent 43 deaths and result in 129 cases of over-diagnosed breast cancers, thereby preventing one death for every three over-diagnosed cases (though we’re not sure how the math adds up on that one).
To this day, the matter remains far from resolved.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, told Reuters the new study’s results were an “interesting conversation starter,” but not the final word on the matter.
“It points out issues that many if not all experts agree on, but the degree of the number of women have been impacted and the true impact of the negative side of mammography is something that other researchers would disagree with,” he said.
Are the figures for real cancer diagnoses adding up?
In their study, Welch and Bleyer examined how well mammography worked as a screening tool.
To reduce the rate of death from cancer, they figured that screening needs to not simply find more cancer in its early stages but also reduce the number of cancers that are discovered late, when treatments aren’t as likely to be effective.
Using government health and census information, the researchers compared breast cancer diagnosis between 1976-1978, before mammogram screening was widely used, with data from 2006-2008, when mammogram screening had become routine and well-established.
They discovered that the implementation of mammography in the U.S. doubled the number of cases of early stage breast cancer detected each year, “but the rate at which women are diagnosed with late-stage cancer has only fallen by eight percent,” said Reuters, citing the study’s data.
“You see with mammography a dramatic increase in early-stage disease, but you don’t see much compensatory decrease in late-stage disease. That means you are finding a whole lot of early cancers that were never destined to become late-stage,” Welch said, adding that mammogram screening isn’t likely doing very much to catch cancers at an even earlier stage, when they can be more successfully treated.
The research team estimated that 1.3 million women in the United States had been over-diagnosed over the last 30 years. In 2008 alone, they estimated the figure to be 70,000 over-diagnosed cases, or 31 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed.
“I can’t discount that there may be a tiny fraction of women who are helped by screening, but we can say it is very small – much smaller than conventional wisdom,” he said.
The contentious U.S. guidelines that recommend fewer mammograms for most women could lead to lower screening rates and a dip in breast cancer detection, two new studies suggest.
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — an independent medical panel with federal support — ignited a controversy when it recommended against routine mammography screening for most women in their 40s and advised less frequent screening for older women.
Instead, the task force said, women in their 40s can discuss mammography screening with their doctors, but should not automatically have it done. For women aged 50 to 74, the panel suggested a mammogram every two years. And for those age 75 and up, the group said there’s too little evidence to recommend for or against screening.
That’s out of step with advice from other groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They urge women to get yearly mammograms starting at age 40.
The two new studies tried to look at the potential impact of the task force guidelines.
In one, researchers compared mammography screening rates among women on Medicare before and after the 2009 recommendations. They found that the rate inched up by about 1 percent between 2005 and 2009, with almost one-third of women having a mammogram in 2009.
But in 2010, the screening rate dropped to just under 31 percent — a decline of 4.3 percent over one year.
The findings do not prove that the task force guidelines were the cause, but lead researcher Dr. David Levin said he thinks the pattern is clear.
“Up until 2009, the mammography rate was going up slowly. In 2010, there was an abrupt drop. It seems pretty obvious that (the guidelines) were the cause,” said Levin, chairman emeritus of radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
All of the women in the study were on Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and up. Levin said the mammography rate could have declined in 2010 because some women were waiting an extra year between mammograms.
December 3, 2012
By Mary Brophy Marcus
MONDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) — Ovarian cancer may join a growing list of malignancies that seem to be slowed by a commonly prescribed diabetes drug.
Ovarian cancer patients who were taking metformin at the time of their diagnosis survived longer than patients who weren’t on the drug, a new study by Mayo Clinic researchers shows.
Metformin goes by the brand name Glucophage and is derived from French lilacs. It’s typically prescribed to lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes but has shown promise as a potential anticancer agent in recent prostate, colon, pancreas, brain and breast cancer studies, as well as in lab experiments with ovarian cancer cells.
The new research, published online Dec. 3 in the journal Cancer, was a retrospective study where the scientists evaluated the medical records of ovarian cancer patients who had received their cancer diagnosis between 1995 and 2010. Sixty-one patients were taking metformin at the time of their cancer diagnosis while 178 patients — the control group — weren’t on the medication.
The scientists reported that 67 percent of the women using metformin had not died within five years of their diagnosis, while only 47 percent of the control group had survived that long.
Overall, patients taking metformin were 3.7 times more likely to survive throughout the study than those who did not take it, the researchers said.
“Our study demonstrated improved survival in women with ovarian cancer that were taking metformin,” said Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, a Mayo Clinic gynecologic oncology fellow, who also noted that the scientists took into account each patient’s body mass index, cancer severity, type of chemotherapy they were taking and surgery quality.
Dr. Pamela Soliman, an associate professor in the department of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said, “Even after controlling for all of those factors, there still showed a benefit for metformin.”
Soliman was not involved with the study, but has conducted similar research in endometrial cancer cells. “This is good first evidence that maybe metformin will have a benefit to patients with ovarian cancer,” she said. “There’s information to gain, but I think more studies need to be done.”
Scientists are still trying to better understand why metformin improves cancer outcomes. Kumar and colleagues said in the lab they have shown that if you feed ovarian cancer cells metformin, they stop dividing. In patients with diabetes, it lowers blood sugar levels and increases insulin sensitivity, two factors associated with cancer growth. Still, more research is needed to understand the biological mechanism at play, Kumar said.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 22,280 women are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and about 15,500 die from the disease annually.
Many patients may wonder if the drug could help curb their cancer, Kumar said, but he advised that it’s too early for doctors to start prescribing metformin as an ovarian cancer treatment.
“We don’t have sufficient evidence that patients with ovarian cancer should be on metformin. This is a study that forms a hypothesis, but patients should wait until large-scale randomized trials are conducted,” Kumar said.
Sunday, December 02, 2012 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Extracts from a certain species of mistletoe are more effective at treating colon cancer and have fewer negative side effects than chemotherapy, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia.
Both case studies and experimental research have shown that mistletoe extracts can stimulate the immune system and directly destroy the cells of many different cancer types. As a result, mistletoe extract is a widely used cancer treatment in Europe. It has not yet been adopted by regulatory agencies or medical professionals in the United States and Australia; however, purportedly due to lack of scientific evidence.
“Mistletoe extract has been considered a viable alternative therapy overseas for many years, but it’s important for us to understand the science behind it,” said Professor Gordon Howarth, who supervised the student who carried out the research.
Arizona police are desperately searching for an 11-year-old leukemia patient who was taken from a Phoenix hospital by her mother a day before she was scheduled to be discharged.
According to AZ Central, authorities are concerned about the child’s welfare as they fear that a catheter in her heart could soon become infected and endanger her life.
“We have been informed by medical personnel if the catheter is not medically removed the victim’s heart could potentially become infected resulting in the child’s death,” police spokesman Steve Martos told the news website.
According to ABC News, the girl, known as Emily, recently had her right arm amputated due to an infection. Surveillance video shows Emily and her mother, identified by police as Norma, walking out of Phoenix Children’s Hospital at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
KPHO reports that Emily’s mother removed the girl’s IV from the catheter and changed her clothes before taking her out of the hospital.
“We don’t know why they left,” said Martos, according to AZ Central. “Our primary concern is for the safety of the girl.”
J. D. Heyes
Dec 2, 2012
The ill-effects of sugary soft drinks has been well documented but new research continues to show just how bad such beverages can be for you, especially over the long term. Now, according to a just-released Swedish study, drinking even one normal-sized soda per day can boost a man’s chances of developing more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
“Among the men who drank a lot of soft drinks or other drinks with added sugar, we saw an increased risk of prostate cancer of around 40 percent,” said Isabel Drake, a PhD student at Lund University, according to Agence France Presse.
The study, which will be published in the upcoming edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed more than 8,000 men aged 45 to 73 for about 15 years on average. Those who drank one 11-fluid-ounce (330 ml) soft drink per day were 40 percent more likely to develop the more serious forms of prostate cancer that ultimately required treatment.
The cancer among the study’s all-male participants was discovered after they showed symptoms of disease, not through a screening process known as Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA).
By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, December 1, 2012 12:09 EST
New American research finds cancer food scares don’t stand up to scrutiny, with most culprit ingredients showing little or no increased risk of disease.
They are mainstay stories of tabloid newspapers and women’s magazines, linking common foods from burnt toast to low-fat salad dressing to cancer. But now US scientists have warned that many reports connecting familiar ingredients with increased cancer risk have little statistical significance and should be treated with caution.
“When we examined the reports, we found many had borderline or no statistical significance,” said Dr Jonathan Schoenfeld of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
In a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Schoenfeld and his co-author, John Ioannidis of Stanford University, say trials have repeatedly failed to find effects for observational studies which had initially linked various foods to cancer. Nevertheless these initial studies have often triggered public debates “rife with emotional and sensational rhetoric that can subject the general public to increased anxiety and contradictory advice”.
Recent reports have linked colouring in fizzy drinks, low-fat salad dressing, burnt toast and tea to elevated cancer risk. In the past, red meat, hot dogs, doughnuts and bacon have also been highlighted. The cancer risks involved in excess alcohol consumption are not disputed by scientists, but other links have been less easy to substantiate.
To examine the implications of these reports, Schoenfeld and Ioannidis selected ingredients at random from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. “We used random numbers to select recipes and collected the ingredients from these” said Schoenfeld. “This gave us a good range of common – and a few not so common – foods. Then we put each of those ingredients into a search engine to find out their associations with cancer risks in medical literature. We found that 40 out of the 50 ingredients we had selected had been studied as having possible links with cancer. The 10 that had not been studied were less common ingredients.”
Among the 40 foods that had been linked to cancer risks were flour, coffee, butter, olives, sugar, bread and salt, as well as peas, duck, tomatoes, lemon, onion, celery, carrot, parsley and lamb, together with more unusual ingredients, including lobster, tripe, veal, mace, cinnamon and mustard.
Schoenfeld and Ioannidis then analysed the scientific papers produced after initial investigations into these foods. They also looked at how many times an ingredient was supposed to increase cancer risk and the statistical significance of the studies.
“Statistical significance” is the term used for an assessment of whether a set of observations reflects a real pattern or one thrown up by chance. The two researchers’ work suggests that many reports linking foodstuffs to cancer revealed no valid medical pattern at all.
“We found that, if we took one individual study that finds a link with cancer, it was very often difficult to repeat that in other studies,” said Schoenfeld. “People need to know whether a study linking a food to cancer risk is backed up before jumping to conclusions.”
Additional research by Gemma O’Neill
A new study reveals that commonly used drugs such as aspirin and other pain killers could keep liver cancer and other forms of hepatic diseases at bay.
For the study, researchers observed and followed up people who consumed the tablets and found that those who took aspirin were 41 percent less likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma and 45 percent less likely to die from chronic liver disease, according to a report in healthcareglobal.com.
According to the researchers, people who used non-aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen reduced their chances of succumbing to liver diseases by 26 percent.
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