When Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens made an appointment for a mammogram last year, she expected a simple breast cancer screening ― not a heavy-handed sales pitch.
A receptionist asked if she wanted a free upgrade to a “3D mammogram,” or tomosynthesis.
“She said there’s a new approach and it’s much better, and it finds all cancer,” said McCaskill-Stevens, who declined the offer.
Upselling customers on high-tech breast cancer screenings is just one way the 3D mammography industry aggressively promotes its product.
A KHN investigation found that manufacturers, hospitals, doctors and some patient advocates have put their marketing muscle ― and millions of dollars ― behind 3D mammograms. The juggernaut has left many women feeling pressured to undergo screenings, which, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, haven’t been shown to be more effective than traditional mammograms.
“There’s a lot of money to be made,” said Dr. Steven Woloshin, director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, who published a study in January showing that the health care industry spends $30 billion a year on marketing.
Paying influential doctors. In the past six years, 3D equipment manufacturers ― including Hologic, GE Healthcare, Siemens Medical Solutions USA and Fujifilm Medical Systems USA ― have paid doctors and teaching hospitals more than $240 million, including more than $9.2 million related to 3D mammograms, according to a KHN analysis of the Medicare Open Payments database.
Marketing directly to consumers. Manufacturers have urged women to demand “the better mammogram,” using celebrity spokeswomen such as breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow. Manufacturers spent $14 million to market 3D screening over the past four years, not including spending on social media, according to Kantar Media, which tracks the advertising industry.