Mammograms have long been considered the “gold standard” of breast cancer imaging. Recommended yearly to every two years for women over 45, millions rely on them to stay on top of their breast health. It is rarely considered that mammograms can ultimately do more harm than good, but what if?
The new documentary bOObs: The War on Women’s Breasts flips the script on mammograms in an attempt to better protect women around the world. The film targets all facets of the precautionary procedure, and delivers shocking information that all women should hear.
Director Megan S. Smith is sure to make a powerful case for alternative imaging options for women in her second documentary. Smith’s other documentary, A New Standard of Care, also targeted cancer but focused more on alternative treatments rather than alternative diagnostics prior to diagnosis. Nevertheless, it is clear that Smith is invested in the way that doctors handle cancer during every stage. The passion that Smith feels towards breast cancer prevention and testing that is meant to protect women is palpable throughout the entire 95-minute runtime.
Smith focuses on doctor testimonials regarding the many issues that mammograms present for patients. Among these issues, radiation is highlighted the most. One of the first facts viewers are given regarding mammograms is that the procedure administers radiation that is equivalent to 100 chest X-rays. This is jarring information that is not always conveyed to women who are told they are protecting themselves from cancer in receiving a mammogram. In reality, they are receiving radiation to their breasts that increases their risk of breast cancer. These facts alone prove that this documentary is of the utmost importance, and should be shown to women around the world with access to mammograms. Smith does women a great service by creating this exposing movie that allows women to rethink their options when it comes to female preventative care.
Doctors that are interviewed in the motion picture present alternative options to mammograms, as well as their drawbacks and shortcomings. The main options that are highlighted are ultrasound and thermography scanning, neither of which use radiation and may be safer for women. While this sounds like great news, the drawbacks of these tests do make you stop and think about what truly is the best option out there for breast screenings. With breast cancer being so prevalent, as one in three women will experience the disease, the question is raised: why are there not more options for prevention and imaging?
Certain sections of the movie in the first half hour feel like they are bordering on a conspiracy theory. There is a segment where a woman is describing her grave cancer diagnosis, then explains how she refused chemotherapy and instead changed her lifestyle habits. Through doing so, she went from being given one year to live to being cancer free. While amazing and inspiring, having the film highlight this story and return to it more than once can’t help but feel reckless. This is in no way a normal occurrence for most people with a cancer diagnosis, despite lifestyle changes. The fear arises that this may give viewers a false sense of security or cause cancer patients to abandon treatment plans their doctors have set in place, simply because the movie glorifies this anomaly.
While discussing a serious, potentially life-changing topic, the documentary doesn’t seem to always take it seriously. The film is packed with tons of sound effects that tend to come off as distracting and funny. Viewers may be alarmed at what they are hearing from doctors in this movie, but may leave being more confused when they hear a “boing” sound effect over the grave dialogue. Cartoon-ish thought bubbles pop up alongside the faces of interviewees more than once, which seem facetious more than anything else.
Smith does a beautiful job in laying out the issues women’s healthcare is facing in regards to breast cancer screenings. She does so by displaying all of women’s options, the issues that are associated with each, and the dangers women unknowingly face when they believe they are being proactive. This documentary gives women the best chance to decide for themselves which testing option is best, despite some of its problematic properties. On behalf of the female community: thank you to Megan S. Smith for taking the time to create an exposé targeting the horrifying truths behind a routine procedure with bOObs: The War on Women’s Breasts.