Breast Cancer Charity Overstates The Value Of Mammograms

By Amir Khan on August 3, 2012 9:15 AM EDT

Breast Cancer
The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure, known for its iconic pink ribbon, overstated the value of mammograms to women, according to a new editorial, published in the British Medical Journal. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure, known for its iconic pink ribbon, overstated the value of mammograms to women, according to a new editorial, published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers from Dartmouth College said that the charity exaggerated the benefits of the test while downplaying its potential harms.

In a 2011 advertisement, Susan G. Komen for the Cure said that the five year survival rate for women with breast cancer is 98 percent if caught early, while only 23 percent if it is not. However, that is not entirely true, researchers said.

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"The survival statistics they present are eye-catching and compelling. They imply that a woman would be crazy and irresponsible if they didn't go for screening," Dr. Steve Woloshin, author of the editorial and a professor at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, told HealthDay. "But the statistics are deceptive."

In actuality, early detection saves 7 deaths for every 10,000 mammograms, Woloshin wrote. A woman in her 50's who get a mammogram every 10 years would cut her chance of dying for a fraction of a percentage point.

The discrepancy comes from how statistics are calculated, according to the report. If 100 women were diagnosed with breast cancer after a mammogram at age 67 and all died at age 70, the five-year survival rate would be 0 percent. However, if 100 women were diagnosed at age 64 and all still died at age 70, the five-year survival rate would be 100 percent.

In addition, the organization did not mention the risks that come from mammograms.  For every woman whose life is saved by a mammogram, between two and 10 and falsely diagnosed, meaning they are told they have cancer when they do not and go through unnecessary treatment.

"As physicians, we feel that breast cancer screening is extremely beneficial," Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. "Screening does save lives, but it's probably not as dramatic as it's sometimes made out to be."

Chandini Portteus, Komen's vice president of research, evaluation and scientific programs, disagreed with the editorial.

"Everyone agrees that mammography isn't perfect, but it's the best widely available detection tool that we have today," she said. "The numbers are not in question. Early detection allows for early treatment, which gives women the best chance of surviving breast cancer." 

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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