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Mammography: false sense of security?

A mammographic exam of both breasts exposes a woman to a dose of radiation 20 to 25 times greater than that of a typical chest x-ray. According to Diana Hunt, former saleswoman for an x-ray manufacturing company, UCLA Medical Center graduate and senior staff x-ray technologist for 20 years, many doctors either do not know the exposure levels of a mammogram or erroneously minimize them to patients.

Much of the misinformation starts with the American Cancer Society, which states that the radiation exposure level to one breast (an average of 1 rad) is "low level, like natural radiation in our environment." This amount is actually 11.9 times the yearly average absorbed by the entire body. And the breast is considered the most sensitive to the cancer-causing radiation of x-rays, even more so than the thyroid and bone marrow.

The ACS guidelines recommend a baseline mammogram at age 35, followed by an annual or biennial mammogram between the ages of 40 to 50, and a yearly exam after age 50. If these guidelines were followed, a woman would be absorbing 72 rads by the time she reaches age 75. The damage that is done is cumulative. Before a baseline mammogram, a 35 year old woman has a statistical risk of 1 in 4,999 of developing breast cancer. After receiving a baseline, it increases to 1 in 660.

Before a cancerous tumor is detectable by a mammogram, it has been present and growing in the breast for 8 to 10 years. Within the medical industry, statistics show that 11 to 25 percent of breast lumps may not even be detected on the x-ray film. Misdiagnosis of lumps may also occur, with an average of 30 percent benign conditions identified as malignant.

Another serious flaw in the use of mammography is the lack of proper training for those administering the tests. Only 20 states require that an x-ray operator be certified by the American Registry of Radiological Technologists, through a two year training program.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Special Delivery
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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