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ASA Adjudication on The Homeopathic Clinic

The Homeopathic Clinic

134 College Road
Liverpool
L23 3DP

Date:

2 March 2011

Media:

Regional press

Sector:

Health and beauty

Number of complaints:

1

Complaint Ref:

138480

Ad

A regional press ad, for a homeopathy clinic, was headlined “Medical Thermal Imaging 100% SAFE BREAST SCREENING”. It also included text that stated “Breast Screening beyond Mammography Thermal imaging is the future of breast screening. It fits all the criteria our Doctors and Oncologists are recommending, early detection and 100% safe. With over 800 published research papers on breast cancer alone, and with trials involving up to 300,000 women all indicating very favourable results, there is ample data to show the benefits of Medical Infrared Thermal Imaging when used in breast screening. Informed and concerned women are now using this safer, accurate and painless method of breast screening in place of routine mammography ... Most women we talk to at our clinic in Crosby have concerns about the dangerous levels of ‘ionising’ radiation associated with mammography and also the dangerous and painful process of clamping the breasts during the procedure. The ionising radiation used in mammography is known to be damaging. As a recent study pointed out, women are not informed of the levels of radiation they are exposed to during routine mammography. Doctors are pointing out that the radiation absorbed dose (RAD) women are exposed to during a routine mammogram screening is the equivalent of 1000 chest x-rays in one session!* How many women are aware of that, and how many would subject themselves to that amount of radiation if they were told the truth? It is for this reason many Doctors are now saying that no healthy woman should be subjected to these levels of ionising radiation ... ”. The ad also included a quotation, which stated “‘If I were a woman I’d never have a mammogram’. Dr Russel Blaylock, oncologist, brain surgeon and neuroscientist”. Small print stated “*Ref: The Role Of Mammography In Breast Health And Overdue Paradigm Shift ... ”.

Issue

The complainant challenged whether:

1. the claim " ... the radiation absorbed dose (RAD) women are exposed to during a routine mammogram screening is the equivalent of 1000 chest x-rays ... " was misleading and could be substantiated;

2. the ad was irresponsible, because it could discourage women from attending routine screenings for a condition for which medical supervision should be sought;

3. the ad was likely to cause undue fear and distress.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

Response

1. The Homeopathic Clinic (THC) said it had been shown in a published independent study, by the oncologist, the brain surgeon and the neuroscientist referred to in the ad, that claims made by the NHS regarding mammography were misleading; in a letter published in the national press, 23 cancer experts had also said that women were being manipulated. They said the levels of ionising radiation women were exposed to during mammography became a major concern and many papers had been written since, some of which indicated that the exposure to ionising radiation during a routine mammography screening might in some cases be equivalent to more than 1,000 chest X-rays. They said the independent study stated that the usual dose of radiation during a mammography X-ray is from 0.25 to 1.00 RAD per image, which equated to between 1 and 4 RAD per session and indicated that during a mammogram session patients could be exposed to levels of ionising radiation that were 4,000 times that of a chest X-ray. THC provided several extracts from articles on the matter and said many critics of mammography mentioned how dangerous radiation was to health. They said they believed the claim was not misleading.

2. THC said it was their intention to provide vital information, that there was no safe dose of ionising radiation and that it could cause cancer, and to offer a choice of screening procedures to women. The ad was not intended to discourage women from attending routine screenings but, instead, not to attend those of the type that could cause harm and play a part in causing the condition they were meant to detect. It was, however, intended to provide information about the option of a safe procedure that was recognised as a class one screening tool. They said it was not only thermographers who were concerned, but doctors and oncologists all over the world were voicing the opinion that mammography was dangerous. Some had commented that a large percentage of cancers being treated were the result of exposure to ionising radiation from past screening procedures. They said all screenings were carried out by fully trained and registered clinical thermographers; all medical reports and thermal images were written and interpreted by fully qualified medical doctors.

3. THC said the information in the ad was from medically qualified doctors and oncologists who had voiced their concerns about the dangers involved in mammography and felt the general public should be made aware of those dangers. They believed those doctors were justified in providing information to the public, particularly as a report published by a doctor stated that information otherwise being given to the public was not truthful and came without warning of the dangers involved. They said the information provided by those doctors should be made available to allow women to make an informed and educated choice about screening procedures, which they could do only if they had access to information about dangers as well as benefits. THC said their procedure, however, benefitted various women and allowed abnormalities to be detected years before mammography could. All doctors agreed that early detection was key to the survival of cancer. They said the ad was helpful and would not cause fear or distress; it provided information that was not available for those who obtained only conventional screening. It would be immoral to withhold that information and would cause more distress if radiation sensitive or healthy women were to unknowingly undergo procedures that would cause harm, given that there was no safe dose of ionising radiation.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA noted the evidence submitted by THC suggested some doctors believed the RAD dose received during a mammogram was likely to be more than that received during X-rays. We considered, however, the claim " ... the radiation absorbed dose (RAD) women are exposed to during a routine mammogram screening is the equivalent of 1000 chest x-rays ... " was likely to be interpreted as absolute, rather than as a reflection of the opinion of some doctors. We considered the evidence submitted was not sufficiently robust to support the likely interpretation of the claim that women undergoing a mammogram would always be exposed to a RAD that was equivalent to 1,000 X-rays. Because THC had not demonstrated that was the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

2. Upheld

We noted the ad was intended to provide information about alternative options for screening. We also noted the requirement of the Code that specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought should not be offered unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. We noted breast cancer was a condition for which medical supervision should be sought however we had not seen evidence that the screening was carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

3. Upheld

We noted the ad included text such as "... the dangerous and painful process of clamping the breasts during the procedure", "Doctors are pointing out that the radiation absorbed dose (RAD) women are exposed to during a routine mammogram screening is the equivalent of 1000 chest x-rays in one session!* How many women are aware of that, and how many would subject themselves to that amount of radiation if they were told the truth? It is for this reason many Doctors are now saying that no healthy woman should be subjected to these levels of ionising radiation ..." and the quotation "If I were a woman Id never have a mammogram". In that context, and because we had not seen sufficiently robust evidence to support the claim " ... the radiation absorbed dose (RAD) women are exposed to during a routine mammogram screening is the equivalent of 1000 chest x-rays ... ", we concluded that the ad was likely to cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and 4.2 (Harm and offence).

Action

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told THC to ensure they held robust substantiation before making future claims. We also told them to ensure they did not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought and to ensure they did not cause fear and distress without justifiable reason.

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

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