~ By Gina M. Bello, Certified Holistic Health Therapist & Instructor

I am a woman, a consumer of products and reader of information. My view is that in the end, regardless of titles and what we think we know, isn’t that what we all are – just consumers and users of products and information? My personal interest in breast health comes at a time now when I’m in my mid-forties, when I’ve been asked by my family doctor (since turning 40) to have yearly screening mammograms for breast cancer. I am not an expert on breast health, but I am a pro-active woman.

Media reports for years have been instructing women to take a preventative and proactive approach to breast health by routinely giving themselves “breast self-exams”. Easy enough, so I’ve been doing that for a number of years now. I’ve also made it a point to read as much as I can, and to actively research information about breast health, breast cancer, preventative therapies and treatment protocols.

Having had only one mammogram since turning 40, I have to say that was enough for me – no thanks, I’ll pass on this yearly ritual. That single experience and the knowledge of increased health risk from actually having yearly mammograms, has urged me to put off yearly screening and so I’ve actively been seeking safe, non-invasive and alternative screening methods.

The urgency comes as a result of seeing an alarming number of women – friends, family, and clients receive diagnosis of breast cancer. Today we are hearing of more women at a much younger age than was once considered to be the average age (40-74), to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Interestingly the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care has released updated guidelines for breast cancer screening. After years of media bombardment urging women to give themselves breast self-exams, now they are advising to not routinely perform breast self-exams…what?! Why? They do say however, these new guidelines do not apply to women with a higher-than-average risk. Often after routine breast self- exams, women find benign lumps. This sets them on a roller coaster ride of grief and anxiety. It looks like this; woman finds lump, visits her family doctor, receives more mammograms, possibly ultrasounds, and biopsies which contribute to her increased anxiety. So, the new recommendations are that women 1) ensure they are not at higher than average risk 2) be aware of their breasts – what feels normal vs. abnormal to them and 3) begin yearly mammograms at age 50. At age 50? So now I am just more confused.

Some interesting facts: poor lifestyle, diet, high toxicity and high stress levels contribute to ill health and cancer. Some women just naturally have more dense and lumpy tissue and have what is known as fibrocystic breasts. Women with higher risk of breast cancer (those with a family history of breast cancers, specifically on their paternal side) have been found to be genetically linked by their father. Hormonal changes and imbalances may occur as we age and if our diet is laden with estrogen-dominant foods (meat, poultry injected with hormones, soya products) in excess women become more susceptible to breast cancer.

On average 80% of breast lumps are benign. Although I mainly agree with the new guidelines, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation believes there’s a problem. The task force would have us skip routine self-breast exams in conjunction with clinical exams, as well as have less frequent mammograms – so we ought to being having them starting at age 50 now, not at age 40 leaving a 10 year gap in the screening process. What’s really going on here?!

In 2003, The Health Sciences Institute released a report regarding three myths about mammography. To recap what was studied:

Myth #1: Mammograms are safe.

Fact: Mammograms may contribute to existing cancer spreading by rupturing blood vessels that may cause the cancer to spread. The process consists of compressing and flattening the breast between two flat surfaces so that the tissue will be sparse enough to allow tumours to be revealed. It is uncomfortable for most women, painful and may cause bruising. And let’s not forget exposure to radiation. Radiation exposure from repeated yearly mammograms alone (not counting any other required x-rays) will increase a women’s risk of breast cancer by 20%. These are two main reasons I hesitate to continue having yearly mammograms.

Myth #2: Breast cancer caught at an early stage by a mammogram will reduce the need for surgery because it can be treated in other ways.

Fact: A tumour large enough to be detected with a mammogram is already in an advanced state. Cellular changes and formation of tumours begin with inflammation of the tissue. It generally takes approximately eight years for inflamed tissue to develop into a lump. Higher incidence of breast lumps form in and around the lymph nodes and arm pit area and above the breast where the mammogram can actually miss finding lumps and tumours.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer, recently found to be a most aggressive form of breast cancer, cannot be detected by a mammogram. It usually begins around the nipple and areola and very quickly spreads over the breast presenting as a very itchy and scaly rash (like eczema) and may or may not ooze.

In 2000 scientists in Denmark reviewed seven of the largest mammography studies conducted at that time. They found that women who underwent regular yearly mammography screening had about 30 percent more mastectomies and lumpectomies than women who weren’t screened. The rate of false positive results from mammograms is also very high, leading to unnecessary biopsies, radiation, mastectomies and lymph node removal. A National Cancer Institute study showed that over the course of nine mammograms for women between the ages of 40 and 69, the risk of a false positive was well over 40 percent.

Myth 3: Mammograms save lives.

Fact: Mammograms have not been proven to save lives. Mammograms are used as a screening and diagnostic tool. It has in some cases found progressive tumours and patient’s lives have been saved by follow up treatment. Statistically, studies that have been conducted do not support that mammograms save lives.

So what are we as women, left with? To seek safer, non-invasive and effective screening tools for breast cancer.

My search led me to find Thermography. Originally used in military operations to detect body heat with thermal imaging cameras with night vision technology, it has been found to be very effective in breast health screening for inflammation and possible tumours. In 1982, the FDA approved Thermography as an adjunct to mammography but not as a stand-alone diagnostic tool.

A trained technician using specialized camera and software for Thermo graphic imaging is used to digitally photograph the breasts at different angles. There is no physical manipulation, no touching, and there is no pain and for me, the best news is that there is no radiation. It is completely safe. The equipment detects and measures inflammation in the body, and how the tissue responds to stimulus. The images are sent by the technician to a trained medical practitioner for evaluation based upon TH scores measuring lowest to highest risk (TH1 – TH5).

Recommendations made by the medical practitioner will encourage follow up with family doctor for breast ultrasound and/or mammograms. Typically for TH scores found to be between TH1-TH2, there is no need for further screening and the only follow up required is scheduling a yearly thermography session. TH3 scores or higher will require a medical follow up with the family physician.

Although not relatively new, Thermography is not as widely known or used and is not paid for by OHIP and therefore currently remains an “out-of-pocket” expense that for some is not easily affordable. Still, what amazed me was to hear of some cases where women who had thermography breast screening with TH scores of T3 and TH4 (medium to high risk), who had implemented dietary and lifestyle changes (incorporated regular meditation, and stress-reducing techniques), along with on-going detoxification protocols supplemented with bio-identical hormones, had actually reduced their risk. When tested with thermography after a year of implementing these changes, their TH scores had gone down to TH2 (low risk).

Intuitively having put off mammograms, I recently signed up for breast cancer screening using Thermography and to my surprise it was recommended that I follow up with my family doctor. I chose to have a breast ultrasound before going straight for a mammogram. Fortunately, the ultrasound was negative. I feel relieved. As I age, I accept that hormonal changes are beginning for me as a woman at the onset of peri-menopause and it’s just part of the normal process of life.

Knowledge and prevention are vital for our health. We are free to choose to be proactive and to choose safer, non-invasive and effective tools to assist us to monitor changes in our aging bodies, and as we deal with stress-the pre-cursor to so many illnesses in our lives.

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