Breast cancer group criticized for ads

MINNEAPOLIS — Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer advocacy group, was criticized by doctors for overstating the benefits of mammograms and failing to tell women about the risks in its last public advertising campaign.

The most recent Komen ads urged regular mammograms and implied that skipping them was harmful, Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz, directors of the Center for Medicine and the Media at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., wrote in an article published Sunday in the British Medical Journal. The advantages are much less clear and woman should be told the positive and negative to make an informed decision, they said.

Cancer screening programs have been questioned in recent years as studies showed they can identify tumors that may never cause harm, though treating them has physical, emotional, and financial implications.


The US Preventive Service Task Force spurred controversy starting in 2009 with recommendations to limit mammograms at younger ages and eliminate a standard prostate cancer test.

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‘‘We think Komen can do a lot better by giving women the information they need to weigh the benefits and the harms,’’ Woloshin said in a telephone interview. ‘‘The ads are misleading and give false promises.’’

The ads emphasize that five-year survival for breast cancer is 98 percent when caught early, and 23 percent when it is not. Those percentages cannot be directly compared, Woloshin said.