The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Cancer Council Australia and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) are urging Australian women not to rely on unproven commercial breast imaging technologies to detect breast cancer. Diagnosis of breast cancer occurs through mammographic screening of women with no symptoms or following checks of women who have symptoms.
The warning comes after Cancer Council Western Australia raised concerns with the ACCC that women may have been misled into believing certain commercial breast imaging technologies are as effective as mammography for early detection of cancer. The commercial technologies include devices using various processes including Electrical Impedance, Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging, Thermal Radiometry, and Computerised/Mechanical Breast Imaging.
The ACCC is continuing to assess whether individual businesses offering these services may have engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct under the Competition and Consumer Act.
ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said if the ACCC found evidence that companies were misleading health consumers about the effectiveness of unproven breast screening technologies, the ACCC would not hesitate to take enforcement action.
"With the increasing promotion of commercial breast imaging technologies, there is a significant risk that women could be misled into believing these technologies offer an equivalent, or alternative, screening method to mammography," Mr Samuel said.
"The ACCC understands the only evidence-based screening technology for breast cancer is mammography, as used by the BreastScreen Australia Program.
"There is a real danger that using unproven commercial breast imaging technologies instead of mammography may delay diagnosis and treatment of cancer."
Cancer Council Western Australia President, Professor Christobel Saunders, a breast surgeon, said breast cancer mortality rates in Australia had declined in recent years as a result of evidence-based strategies, including mammography screening.
"Mammography is the gold standard for detecting breast cancer early in women without symptoms, particularly those aged 50 to 69," Professor Saunders said.
"The alternative technologies being promoted by commercial interests simply do not compare in the slightest way with the effectiveness of mammography. For example, a recently published UK paper showed Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging had a very poor cancer detection rate of 25 per cent. The limited evidence on these technologies suggests that they are not at all useful when it comes to detecting breast cancer."
"Using an unproven technology instead of one that is supported by the evidence can be a matter of life and death," Professor Saunders said.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is working with the ACCC to ensure that the sponsors of the devices used in commercial technologies only make appropriate claims about their clinical value. The TGA has removed a number of these devices from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods because sponsors were unable to substantiate claims made about their value in diagnosing breast cancer. More information can be obtained on the TGA website at http://www.tga.gov.au/safety/alerts-device-breast-screening-100924.htm
Information about the commercial technologies can be found in the publications Unproven Breast Imaging – the Facts and Testing for Breast Cancer: Will the real breast screening test please stand up? available on Cancer Council WA’s website:
Women concerned about breast cancer should talk to their GP or they can call the Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20. More information about breast cancer can be also be obtained from the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre at www.nbocc.org.au.