Pink Ribbons

04.25.1310:11 AM ET

Is Our War on Breast Cancer Overzealous?

A breast-cancer survivor says mammograms are doing more harm than good.

For years activists have waged a remarkably successful campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer and encourage regular mammograms. But what if all that awareness is doing as much harm as good? In a New York Times Magazine cover story, Peggy Orenstein, herself a breast-cancer survivor, looks at the dark side of the very public war on the disease. Not only do regular mammograms do much less than advertised to increase survival rates, they also lead to a great many false positives. “According to a survey of randomized clinical trials involving 600,000 women around the world, for every 2,000 women screened annually over 10 years, one life is prolonged, but 10 healthy women are given diagnoses of breast cancer and unnecessarily treated, often with therapies that themselves have life-threatening side effects,” Orenstein writes. In the end, she concludes, our culture’s ubiquitous, pink-ribbon-bedecked messages about breast cancer have “ultimately made women less conscious of the facts: obscuring the limits of screening, conflating risk with disease, compromising our decisions about health care, celebrating ‘cancer survivors’ who may have never required treating.”