Mammography: What are the (real) risks?

Occasionally, the topics for my newsletters — and now my PHS blog posts — come from repeated questions that come from clients during the month. Other times, they are sparked from my personal desire to educate or remind clients of the benefits of thermal imaging in monitoring health.


This month’s newsletter and blog are somewhat pre-emptive in that “Pink-tober” is right around the corner and we are about to be inundated with messages about the benefits of early detection and marketing campaigns that promise to donate a portion of the proceeds to support Breast Cancer Research. Pinktober is of course, the month of October and you not only begin to see the pink washing of items in the grocery stores, but you will hear (ad nauseum) about the benefits of mammography.
However, there are risks associated with mammography that you may NOT be aware of.  Unfortunately, thermography (a functional test) cannot replace the use of mammography (a structural test). My goal in sharing this information is to possibly inform you about the risks that you may not know about.  My hope is this will empower you to decide at what interval of time it’s best for YOU to use mammography with annual thermography.

Compare & Contrast Thermography vs. Mammography

Breast thermal imaging:

  • Can compare previous thermograms against an established baseline. If there are worrisome findings, you have a chance to make changes to address lymph congestion, hormonal imbalances, fibrocystic changes, and/or new vascular patterns that may relate to breast disease developing in the future.  
  • Looks for physiologic changes that precede disease thus allowing you time for intervention and lifestyle examination.


  • Is not a preventative method for staving off breast cancer and is used to look for calcifications and/or lesion/tumors that have yet to be found by self or clinical exam. 
  • Offers no opportunity for prevention once a tumor is found. On average, a tumor takes 6-8 years to develop into a size large enough to be seen on an X-ray and once discovered, there could be as many as 4 billion cancer cells for your immune system to battle.

In summary, thermography cannot replace mammography and there are no claims to suggest this.

The Radiobiological Risks of Mammography

Sayer Ji, founder and editor of and author of How X-Ray Mammography is Accelerating the Epidemic of Breast Cancer, writes a concise and powerful report about this topic so rarely discussed in our medical arena.  I encourage you to read the full report.  Below are some salient points about his findings.

  • British Journal of Radiobiology 2006 – article revealed that the type of radiation used in X-ray based breast screening is much more carcinogenic than previously believed as compelling evidence demonstrated that the low-energy X-rays used in mammography are about 4 times – but could be as much as 6 times- more effective in causing mutational damage than the higher energy X-rays.
  • The above finding notes that since the current radiation risk of mammograms is based on high-energy gamma radiation it thus implies that the risks of radiation-induced breast cancer for mammography X-rays are also underestimated by the same factor.

While this seems counter-intuitive, the truth is that low-energy (often called “low-dose”) X-ray used in mammograms is more dangerous than high-energy X-ray like those used in a chest X-ray.

During my training, I learned that high-energy radiation (ie: chest X-ray) has smaller fast moving photons causing less cellular DNA damage due to size and speed. On the other hand, low-energy (low-dose) radiation (ie: mammography) has larger, slower moving photons which can and do cause double strand breaks within the DNA of susceptible cells; damage that cannot be repaired by the cell.

A recent report discusses the impact of radiation on young women with genetic mutations:  Radiation May Increase Breast Cancer Risk. Young women who have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer may benefit from MRI or other non-radiation type screening.

How Much Radiation?

According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2011), a mammogram uses 4 mSv of radiation versus the 0.02 mSv from the average chest X-ray. Thus, a mammogram delivers 200 times more radiation than a typical chest X-ray. Obviously,the effects of the x-ray are different and perhaps should not be compared.

The current risk model used today to tell women the amount of radiation they are exposed to in a mammogram has two fundamental flaws:


  • It is based on the higher-energy radiation emission (radiation from the atomic bomb or a chest X-ray).


  • This risk model is crude in that it was developed before the discovery of DNA and before a comprehensive understanding of radiotoxicity and genotoxicity.


Unfortunately, Sayer Ji goes on to state, “With the advent of non-ionizing radiation based diagnostic technologies, such as thermography, it has become vitally important that patients educate themselves about the alternatives to X-ray mammography that already exist.” 


Anytime I read the words “thermography” and “alternative” in the same sentence, my stomach turns. 


I do not want to mislead you about thermography and what it offers and so, no comparison of the two technologies should be made. They are completely different in their utility and proper role.


Recognize that my reason for sharing this information with you is to alert you to the biological affects of low-energy (low-dose) radiation from mammography and that what you may be told about how much radiation your breasts are exposed to during this procedure may not be the truth.


I encourage you to read Sayer Ji’s essay and even print it out for your practitioner who may tell you that the amount of radiation in a mammogram is the same as a flight to Denver or spending a week at a high altitude. You might consider printing Sayer’s article for them to read and consider.


Please pass this along to other women regardless of their age. Educate them on how thermography can offer them the chance to assess their current breast health status and that there are numerous ways to improve upon it if needed and monitor it yearly for early warning signs. Be sure to let them know that breast DITI is not a replacement for mammography, but that it empowers you to take charge of your health and play a more active role in maintaining or regaining optimal wellness.



Lastly, although the information in this post is important, please be sure to read about the equally important topic of GMO food labeling in my next post entitled “Frankenfoods: We Have the Right to Know.” The impact of GMO foods on our health as well as on the environment will be the major focus of my October newsletter and blog. It is imperative that we alert as many people as we can to the importance of CA Proposition 37 before the November 6th election!

Brenda Witt

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