Breast cancer rates increased significantly in four Norwegian counties after women there began getting mammograms every two years. In fact, according to background information in the study, the start of screening mammography programs throughout Europe has been associated with increased incidence of breast cancer.
This raises some obvious and worrisome questions: Did the x-rays and/or the sometimes torturous compression of breasts during mammography actually spur cancer to develop? Or does this just look like an increase in the disease rate because mammography is simply identifying more cases of breast cancer?
The researchers say they can't blame the increased incidence of breast cancer on more cases being found because the rates among regularly screened women remained higher than rates among women of the same age who only received mammograms once after six years. Bottom line: the scientists conclude this indicates that some of the cancers detected by mammography would have spontaneously regressed if they had never been discovered on a mammogram and treated, usually with chemotherapy and radiation. Simply put, it appears that some invasive breast cancers simply go away on their own, healed by the body's own immune system.
The researchers were surprised to find that the incidence of invasive breast cancer was 22 percent higher in the group regularly screened with mammography. In fact, screened women were more likely to have breast cancer at every age.
This does not mean breast cancer should be ignored or not treated. After all, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among American women. But the extraordinarily good and hopeful news is that it appears invasive breast cancer sometimes can be destroyed naturally -- at least in some people -- by the body's own innate defenses.
By: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor