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Breast Cancer Charity Overstates Value of Mammograms: Researchers
Date:8/3/2012

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- The breast cancer charity that brought the world the pink ribbon exaggerates the benefits of mammography while minimizing its harms, researchers claim.

The organization in question is the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which stated in a 2011 advertisement that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98 percent, while it is only 23 percent if not caught early.

"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," said Dr. Steve Woloshin, co-author of the article challenging the charity. "But the statistics are deceptive."

According to Woloshin's commentary, which appears online Aug. 2 in the BMJ, a woman in her 50s who goes for regular mammograms for 10 years will only cut her chance of dying by a fraction of a percentage point -- for every 10,000 women who are screened 7 deaths will be prevented.

The reason for the discrepancy?

Survival statistics calculate how long a woman lives only after diagnosis, the researchers explained.

If 100 women were diagnosed with breast cancer after feeling a lump at age 67 and all died three years later at the age of 70, the five-year survival rate would be 0 percent.

But, if the cancers were detected by mammography when the women were 64 and they still died at the age of 70, the five-year survival would be 100 percent.

Komen also minimizes the harms that can come from over-screening, according to the article.

For every woman whose life is saved by mammography, between two and 10 women are overdiagnosed, meaning they are told they have cancer when they do not and end up going through unnecessary treatment.

And up to half of women who are screened every year for a decade receive at least one false positive, meaning they have to
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