Mammogram backers caught wild exaggeration

Early detection of breast tumors through mammography has ruined more lives than it's saved. That's a fact, but don't expect to hear about it from Susan G. Komen for the Cure anytime soon.

The world's largest breast cancer charity continues its relentless push for mammograms -- and it seems like they'll say just about anything.

They'll even wildly exaggerate the truth.

Check out this whopper the charity used in an ad campaign last year: The five year survival rate for cancers caught "early" is 98 percent, versus just 23 percent for those caught "late."

Sounds like a win for screening, and a big one at that, right?

Not so fast -- because an editorial in BMJ shows those numbers are a wild and deceptive exaggeration. In reality, years of zapping breasts with radioactive mammograms have made only the slightest of dents in the disease's survival rate, while exposing women who don't have cancer to damaging unnecessary treatments.

Here are the numbers that should've been in that ad, but weren't: A 50-year-old women who never gets a mammogram has a 0.53 percent risk of dying of breast cancer over 10 years.

A 50-year-old woman who gets screened annually, as Komen recommends, has a 0.46 percent risk of dying of the disease.

That's an absolute difference of just 0.07 percent, according to the data in BMJ.

Now, it would be one thing if that very tiny benefit came without hurting anyone. But that's not the case at all -- because for every woman "saved" by screenings and treatments, up to 10 others are given treatments they never even needed.

In fact, the researchers wrote that between 20 percent and 50 percent of women who follow Komen's advice for annual mammograms will experience at least one false positive over the course of a decade -- a false positive that will lead to an unnecessary biopsy.

And let's not forget that mammograms use radiation, and radiation causes cancer -- so regular mammograms can actually increase the risk of the very disease they're designed to detect.

So don't be bullied by Komen or anyone else. Learn about all your options, and make your own informed decision on when to be screened and how to be screened -- including safer choices such as ultrasound, MRI, and thermography.