Susan G. Komen for the Cure‘s mammography campaign during breast cancer awareness month last October has come under fire from professors Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, who say the foundation overstated the benefits of the procedure and totally ignored the risks.
“The ad implies that mammograms have a huge effect, but the only evidence that they use is the five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98% and when it’s not, 23%,” Woloshin said. “The problem is that in the context of screening survival, statistics are meaningless.”
“To make an informed decision, you not only have to know the benefits you have to know the harm. And the ad does not say anything about harm, it just gives you this exaggerated benefit statistic,” Woloshin said.“Screening is a genuine decision people need to make and they can only make it if they have the facts. It doesn’t mean that screening is not good, it means it does good and it does harm. Some people can benefit and some will get hurt, and the harm is just as real as the benefit.”
Woloshin and Schwartz write a series that highlights exaggerations, distortions and selective reporting in advertising, news stories and medical journals that are misleading. They say the problem in Komen’s case is using survival statistics to determine the benefit of screening.