By Dr Nyjon K Eccles BSc MBBS MRCP PhD
As you might expect, I’m very pleased to have seen a recent shift in emphasis when it comes to how we diagnose cancers in the UK.
There have been three high profile developments in the debate on how we screen for cancers over the last couple of weeks.
First, scientists from the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University London called for all women under the age of 30 to undergo tests for faulty genes that can increase breast and ovarian cancer risk.
The faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is what led Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy in an attempt to avoid contracting breast cancer in the future.
Then, former Labour MP and current Labour peer, Dame Tessa Jowell, who is herself undergoing treatment for brain cancer, urged the NHS to make more experimental treatments available to cancer patients.
Finally, research sponsored by the largest of the UK cancer charities, Cancer Research UK, revealed evidence of a link between abnormal cell development and an increased risk of contracting cancer.
At present, the primary method of screening for breast cancer offered by the NHS is mammography, and that presents a number of problems.
First, and except where there’s a family history of breast cancer, it’s only available to women over the age of 40. This is generally because the density of breast tissue in younger women makes mammography unsuitable. But the over40 policy excludes women across a twenty-year age range who may be at risk, however small.
Second, it can only detects an established breast tumour once it has reached around 10mm in size and furthermore, it has a high rate of inaccuracy (35%), which can either mean a wrong positive diagnosis and wholly unnecessary treatment. The latter including, at worst, mastectomy, or more seriously, it can miss a tumour entirely.
But third, and most importantly, even at 100% accuracy, a positive diagnosis can only ever confirm that you already have cancer. Similarly, a negative diagnosis only confirms that you don’t have cancer today, not that you won’t have cancer tomorrow.
So, where is the will to ensure that screening becomes preventative rather than simply a first step in the curative? Why, given the scientific evidence that it has for so long claimed wasn’t available, has the cancer industry – the NHS, researchers and charities – not committed itself to greater transparency in the war on cancer? Why, when there are other, options available, is there no support for patients to explore additional treatments and processes?
Dame Tessa Jowell’s various speeches on this subject in January strike quite a chord. Her argument, powerful in its simplicity, is that patients should, within reason, have the right to access experimental or non-traditional opportunities to either prevent or treat cancer.
At The Natural Doctor, we offer ThermoCheck breast thermography screening which is suitable for women of all ages because it uses thermal imaging to detect abnormal heat patterns and signatures in breast tissue which can indicate a cancer risk.
Moreover, it can pick up these abnormalities up to ten years before a mammogram can detect an existing tumour. That’s ten years in which to make nutritional and lifestyle changes that could avoid an individual contracting the disease at all.
Used regularly from an early age and complementing mammography in later life, it’s hard to see how thermography isn’t a powerful weapon in the arsenal of health care provision around cancer.
Ignoring for a moment the human cost of cancer in the lives that are lost and those that are irrevocably altered by the disease either through surgery or bereavement, the financial cost of cancer to our health service is astronomical.
It’s estimated that the cost of treating cancer in the UK runs at around £10bn. That’s £30,000 for every person diagnosed. In 2015, there were 55,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer. On average, then, breast cancer alone costs the NHS £1.65bn.
Quite how many of those 55,000 cases might have been averted through the use of complementary screening is, of course, impossible to say with any degree of certainty. But even if it was just 0.1%, it would save 55 people going through the trauma of the disease and reduce the NHS bill by £1.65m
Imagine what they could do with that.
The evidence, both scientific and financial, suggests there can now be no logical argument against the NHS providing access to experimental and non-traditional treatments and processes to prevent, manage and treat cancer.
Having a choice is about having options. In the case of breast cancer prevention, having one option – mammography – is no choice at all.