Breast Cancers Spontaneously Disappear

John McDougall, MD

Dr John McDougall


Breast Cancers Spontaneously Disappear

The natural history of invasive breast cancers detected by screening mammography by Per-Henrik Zahl published in the November 24, 2008 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine found, “…that the natural course of some screen-detected invasive breast cancers is to spontaneously regress.”1 The investigators found invasive breast cancer 22% more often in women who had a mammography every other year for 6 years than those who did not (1909 vs. 1564 per 100 000 women). If all cancer were to naturally progress and none disappear then the same number of cancers would be expected to be found in the women who received regular screening every other year and those who only had one exam after 6 years. Their conclusion was, “it appears that some breast cancers detected by repeated mammographic screening would not persist to be detectable by a single mammogram at the end of 6 years.”  The final remarks of the investigators were, “Our findings are equally consistent with the possibility that mammography either leads to a reduction in breast cancer mortality or has no effect at all. Instead, our findings simply provide new insight on what is arguably the major harm associated with mammographic screening, namely, the detection and treatment of cancers that would otherwise regress.”

Comment: Spontaneous regression of advanced breast cancer has been reported.  One recent reported identified 32 such cases, but there are certainly many more unreported cases.2 Advanced melanoma, brain cancer (neuroblastoma), and kidney cancer are also known to disappear without treatment.  Precancerous changes in the female uterine cervix and colon polyps also regress. 

Most of my readers know that I am against doing “early detection” screening tests for most cancers, including those of the breast, prostate, and lung cancer. This study provides one more reason to avoid mammography and even breast-self examination—benefits of which have been seriously questioned.3,4 The harms from these detection campaigns are, however, unquestioned.*

I often see women with breast cancer, men with prostate cancer, and both genders with many other forms of cancer in late stages.  Their doctors have given them no hope—in fact, in most cases their well-intentioned treatments add to their misery.  Hopelessness compounds the suffering.  Patients need to be told that even with advanced cancer, sometimes there is recovery, called spontaneous remission.  I believe this miracle is more likely to happen for someone in good health, rather than in poor health. The only way I know to consistently improve health is by replacing destructive habits with good ones.  The most powerful of these changes is switching from the meat-, dairy-, and junk food-based Western diet to the McDougall starch-based diet.  I have seen what I believe to be spontaneous remissions in my patients several times. Ruth Heidrich, reported as a Star McDougaller, is one remarkable example of metastatic breast cancer diagnosed over 26 years ago—and she lives cancer free today.

*I believe there are minor benefits to be had from PAP smears every 3 to 5 years until age 50, one routine colon exam (polyps) at age 55 to 60, exams of the mouth (leukoplakia), and skin exams (pre-melanoma).

1) Zahl PH, Maehlen J, Welch HG. The natural history of invasive breast cancers detected by screening mammography. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Nov 24;168(21):2311-6.

2) Larsen SU, Rose C. Spontaneous remission of breast cancer. A literature review.Ugeskr Laeger. 1999 Jun 28;161(26):4001-4.

3) Baxter N; Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. Preventive health care, 2001 update: should women be routinely taught breast self-examination to screen for breast cancer? CMAJ. 2001 Jun 26;164(13):1837-46.

4) Gøtzsche PC, Nielsen M. Screening for breast cancer with mammography.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD001877.


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