Mammograms and thyroid cancer

 
By Melanie Azam • Published: January 29th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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Are mammograms and the increase in thyroid cancer linked?

Medical experts say no and are worried the false rumors linking breast imaging with thyroid cancer could keep women from getting a mammogram, which has saved millions of lives over the past 20 years.

According to the American Thyroid Association, routine X-ray exposure such as dental X-rays, chest X-rays and mammograms have not been shown to cause thyroid cancer.

Some people advocate wearing a thyroid shield during mammograms, but many experts say this protective gear can actually compromise optimal imaging. The shield can slip down into the field of view of a mammogram and block some of the breast tissue, requiring the mammogram to be repeated.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital say there is no risk to the thyroid during a mammogram. Radiation that may reach the thyroid during a mammogram is equivalent to 30 minutes of naturally occurring background radiation that people get from the environment.

It’s true that the number of thyroid cancer cases for both men and women is increasing at a rate faster than for other types of cancer, but the reason for this is unclear. Thyroid cancer is more common in people who have a history of exposure to high doses of radiation, have a family history of thyroid cancer and are over age 40.

But deaths from breast cancer are decreasing, and many experts credit this drop to mammograms. Mammography screenings began at the national level in the mid-1980s and the number of breast cancer deaths has dropped by more than 30 percent since 1990.

So women, don’t believe the hype. Continue getting your annual mammogram — your thyroid won’t mind a bit.