You are here

Breast Cancer Charity Under Fire for Overstating Benefits of Screening

Their views were published on August 2 on bmj.com as part of an occasional series highlighting the exaggerations, distortions, and selective reporting that make some news stories, advertising, and medical journal articles "not so."

A growing and increasingly accepted body of evidence shows that although screening may reduce a woman's chance of dying from breast cancer by a small amount, it also causes major harms, say the authors. And yet, Komen's public advertising campaign gives women no sense that screening is a close call. Instead it states that the key to surviving breast cancer is for women to get screened because "early detection saves lives. The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98%. When it's not? 23%."

Mammography certainly sounds better when stated in terms of improving 5-year survival from 23% to 98%, a difference of 75 percentage points, Schwartz and Woloshin say. But in terms of its actual benefit, mammography can reduce the chance that a woman in her 50s will die from breast cancer over the next 10 years from 0.53% to 0.46%––a difference of 0.07 percentage points.

The Komen advertisement also ignores the harms of screening, they add. For every life saved by mammography, around two to 10 women are over-diagnosed.

"Women need much more than marketing slogans about screening: they need––and deserve––the facts," conclude the authors. "The Komen advertisement campaign failed to provide the facts. Worse, it undermined decision-making by misusing statistics to generate false hope about the benefit of mammography screening.”

Read the article from the British Medical Journal.

Recent Headlines

Safety concerns include liver injury and interactions with other drugs
No tobacco product is safe, says the lung heath group
Discovery seen as possibly leading to new anti-TB drugs
Study points to permanent hair dye and straighteners
How malaria parasites evade first-line drugs
A new way to fight staph infections
Score could help prevent misuse among cancer patients
'All head impacts are not the same'