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The Cancer Letter Inc.
PO Box 9905
Washington
DC 20016
Tel: 202-362-1809
Fax: 202-379-1787
publication date: Feb 10, 2012
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and Planned Parenthood may have 
had their differences over reproductive politics, but they march in lockstep when they 
overstate the promise of breast cancer screening to young women, a group of experts 
said to The Cancer Letter.
Much of the controversy over screening mammography is focused on women 
between the ages of 40 and 49. No responsible health authorities suggest starting to 
screen earlier, before the age of 40. 
Yet, nearly all the women Planned Parenthood serves are in their twenties and 
thirties—and the health claims these women see on the organization’s website go far 
beyond the evidence-based recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
The group’s clinical guidelines, which presumably determine what happens in the 
Planned Parenthood clinics, appear to have been compiled cafeteria-style, combining 
elements of guidelines used by other organizations and professional societies. 
Planned Parenthood’s website declares that screening saves lives, a point not 
proven even in an older population, and prominently features a scary anecdote: a 
27-year-old woman identified as Colleen L., of Loudonville, N.Y., discovers a lump in her 
breast. “There is no doubt in my mind that Planned Parenthood saved my life,” Colleen 
writes in a testimonial. 
On the website, Planned Parenthood’s top doctor discusses clinical breast exams, 
breast self-exams and screening mammography in a population that is, by definition, 
pre-menopausal. 
The fact that the data don’t provide a solid justification for using clinical breast 
exams and self-exams to screen in any age group is not mentioned.
In 2010, more than 88 percent of women who relied on Planned Parenthood were 
35 and younger, according to a spokesperson. No numbers were provided for the 
40-and-above cohort.
The Cancer Letter asked experts in evidence-based medicine to review the information 
on the Planned Parenthood website, found at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/
Evaluations by the four experts suggest that Komen’s instinct to bar Planned Parenthood 
from receiving future funding may have been right, albeit for wrong reasons. It would have been 
appropriate to withdraw the funds because Planned Parenthood apparently fails to discuss the 
known risks of screening for breast cancer as it promotes screening to young women, whose 
chances of being harmed could outweigh the chances of seeing a benefit.
These experts are:
• Donald Berry, a biostatistician at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who was involved in 
preparing the USPSTF breast cancer screening guideline. 
• Russell Harris, a former USPSTF member and professor of medicine in the Division of 
General Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, 
Chapel Hill, and director of the UNC School of Medicine Program on Prevention in Education and Practice.
• Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, professors of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, 
whose research is focused on communication of medical statistics and information about the 
benefits and harms of screening and prescription drugs.



Copyright (c) 2014 The Cancer Letter Inc.
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