Thinking — not just pink-ing — on breast cancer

It’s October, so it must be breast cancer industry month.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure launched the breast cancer movement in 1982. Here’s what it says are the movement’s accomplishments:

More early detection – nearly 75 percent of women over 40 years old now receive regular mammograms, the single most effective tool for detecting breast cancer early (in 1982, less than 30 percent received a clinical exam).
More hope – the five-year survival rate for breast cancer, when caught early before it spreads beyond the breast, is now 98 percent (compared to 74 percent in 1982).
More research – the federal government now devotes more than $900 million each year to breast cancer research, treatment and prevention (compared to $30 million in 1982).
More survivors – America’s 2.5 million breast cancers survivors, the largest group of cancer survivors in the U.S., are a living testament to the power of society and science to save lives.

Komen for the Cure has collected more than $2 billion over that time, spending $1.9 billion on research. Taxpayers have spent billions more.

But what’s really been accomplished other than the cause-ification of a disease?

Just looking at the Komen figures, it’s hard to say — and that says a lot.

More women being screened means that more breast cancer cases (life-threatening and not) are being detected and detected earlier. So it comes as no surprise that the five-year survival rate has increased and that breast cancer “survivors” are the largest group of cancer survivors.

Statistics from the National Cancer Institute show no great changes in breast cancer incidence or mortality since it began collecting statistics in the mid-1970s.

That the federal government spends $900 million per year on research is no achievement as that money has produced no significant advances in treatment — i.e., no cure. And there is no “cure” on the horizon.

None of this is to say that women shouldn’t be concerned about breast cancer and shouldn’t undergo screening, especially women with a genetic predisposition.

But the bottom line is that billions of dollars have been collected and spent, and much alarm and false hope have been spread by the breast cancer industry. But other than expansive self-aggrandisement, the jury is still out on what the industry has accomplished.

7 thoughts on “Thinking — not just pink-ing — on breast cancer”

  1. The debate over the benefit of mammography has existed since the late 80’s. A combination of low incidence in a screened population, three per thousand, combined with a wide variation in interpretation skills plays a major but unreported role. If you would care for additional insight let me know.

    GT M.D.


    This is the site. Graph on page seven. Call it 34 per 100,000 in 1898 decreasing to about 23 in 2007. Looking at African Americans and white women. 11 fewer deaths out of 34 about 30%. If I am reading this incorrectly let me know. As a radiologist I deal with mammography and breast cancer and the recent Europaen study showing similar decreases in mortality regardless of screening mamography, presumtive evidence for a decrease in mortality.

    GT MD

  3. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as provided by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, National Cancer Institute.

    According to the above source which is available from the ACS there actually has been a steady decline in deaths per 100,000 from breast cancer of about 30% since the late 80’s. So , Steve, who do we believe?
    GT M.D.

  4. Stop being right, Mr. Milloy. You’re causing me to get depressed.

    Maybe I should drink more coffee

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