Are Breast Cancer Survival Rate Claims Being Exaggerated?

    A breast cancer logo pink ribbon on a white surfaceSusan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer charity that brought the world the pink ribbon, is exaggerating the benefits of mammography while minimizing its harms, according to a report in HealthDay News.

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    The organization 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.”

    What are the real survival rates…and the real dangers?

    According to Woloshin’s commentary,  a woman in her 50s who goes for regular mammograms for 10 years will actually 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.

    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 undergo a biopsy and experience the fear of thinking they have breast cancer, if only temporarily.

    When & how often should you get a mammogram?

    The article comes at a time when there has been increasing furor over the value of breast cancer screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that women in their 40s do not get regular mammograms.

    In contrast, the American Cancer Society recommends that all women aged 40 and over get annual mammograms.

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