Remember the big uproar over Komen's decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood? Add this new controversy to the mix: Two Dartmouth Medical School professors are saying that the organization is distorting statistics in order to sell mammograms.
A commentary [by , Dr. Steven Woloshin and Dr. Lisa Schwartz of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice] published Thursday in the journal BMJ describes how the world’s largest breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, uses deceptive statistics to promote mammography screening.
They launched magazine ads last October that claimed "The five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98 percent. When it's not? 23 percent." However:
“The only reliable way to know that a screening test works is the extent to which it reduces deaths in a randomized trial,” write Woloshin and Schwartz.
And what do those trials tell us? They show that mammography screening reduces the likelihood that a woman in her 50s will die from breast cancer over the next 10 years from 0.53 percent to 0.46 percent, a difference of 0.07 percentage points.
That’s a long, long way from the 75 percentage points cited in the Koman ad. Furthermore, as Woloshin and Schwartz point out, the ad says nothing about the harms of screening: the unnecessary biopsies that occur with false positive results and the unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation or surgery that women go through when they are overdiagnosed.
The problem is that a five-year survival rate is easy to manipulate, [Dr. Steven Woloshin] said. The ad compares five-year survival rates for early-stage cancers and late-stage cancers, which Woloshin said is not a meaningful way to measure the benefits of screening.
Not the best way to restore their already badly tarnished reputation.