FARGO — The claims are explosive: Mammograms subject women to ionizing radiation in amounts equal to 100 chest X-rays, and they actually cause breast cancer.
A film showing Thursday, March 21, at the Fargo Theatre as part of the annual Fargo Film Festival takes direct aim at mammography, the gold standard in breast cancer detection in the U.S.
It’s the subject of a panel discussion after the screening, featuring the filmmaker and local physicians, who intend to debunk many of the film’s messages. The controversial nature of the film carries over to its title, “bOObs: The War on Women’s Breasts.”
Written, produced and directed by Megan S. Smith, the film claims a combination of ultrasound and thermography, or infrared imaging, is cheaper, safer and more effective than mammography.
Alternative medicine specialist Dr. Ben Johnson, who died in January of this year after the film was shot, sounds the alarm in the film’s trailer about false positives that can result from mammography.
“Leading to stress, anxiety, fear, maybe the biopsy. I mean, this is just a nightmare,” Johnson said.
Dr. Michael Bouton, a breast surgeon at Sanford Health in Fargo, will be part of the film’s panel discussion, along with Dr. Jacob Goldenberg, a Sanford radiologist.
Bouton rejects the film’s claims that mammograms aren’t effective in diagnosing breast cancer and that thermograms are a better alternative. “There’s just no information that supports any of those claims,” he said.
A synopsis of the film states that used together, thermography and ultrasound, both painless tests not involving radiation, can find cancer years before a tumor forms, with “up to twice the accuracy of some mammography machines.”
Bouton said with thermography, a thermal camera records changes in temperature of the surface of the breast. But many things can affect that temperature, including inflammation, infection and the type of clothing being worn, he said.
“There’s not anything that’s ever been shown about thermograms that make it useful in diagnosing breast cancer early or better than any other imaging test,” he said.
In fact, in late February, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about thermography being used inappropriately at health spas, homeopathic clinics and other locations across the country as a standalone tool for breast cancer screening.
The federal agency’s approval of thermography applies only to it being used in conjunction with other screening tests, such as mammography. It said thermograms should not be used in place of mammograms, and that there is “no valid scientific data” to show thermography is an effective screening tool “for any medical condition.”
The FDA has issued warning letters to numerous thermography businesses, saying their advertising is false and misleading and must stop.
Bouton said though no test is perfect, mammography is still the best tool available for screening and diagnosing breast cancers in their earliest stages, when they’re most treatable.
The amount of ionizing radiation emitted through a mammogram, he said, is equivalent to simply being out in the environment for a few months.
He advises women to talk with their doctor about assessing their risk for breast cancer, when to start getting mammograms and how often to have them.
If you go
What: Fargo Film Festival screening of “bOObs: The War on Womens’ Breasts”
Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N.
When: 11:15 a.m. Thursday, March 21, followed by a panel discussion at noon at Dempsey’s Public House, 226 Broadway N.