Diagnostic Imaging Online
October 27, 2003

California sues AmeriScan over breast MR claims

The state of California and California Medical Board filed a suit Wednesday accusing AmeriScan, the whole-body screening company, of false statements in advertising breast MR screening services.

The joint filing seeks a permanent injunction against such claims, penalties of up to $2500 for every false advertisement disseminated in California, and restitution for women who feel they were misled.

Up until a few months ago, AmeriScan had 12 nationwide screening centers. Today, only two remain open in San Jose, CA, and Glendale, AZ.

The San Francisco district attorney?s office and the California Medical Board had each been separately investigating AmeriScan CEO Dr. Craig Bittner for several months. They joined forces when they learned of their common pursuit, according to assistant D.A. June D. Cravett.

?We did not file suit without first attempting informally to get Dr. Bittner to change his advertising,? Cravett said. ?He was unwilling to do that, even after being contacted by my office and the California Medical Board.?

Bittner could not be reached for comment.

AmeriScan offers MRI as a screening test for women in the general population. It claims, among other things, that the test is nearly 100% accurate, is recognized as the best method for early detection, and can differentiate with nearly 100% accuracy between benign and malignant lesions, according to the complaint.

?There is absolutely no published peer-reviewed scientific literature that supports the use of MRI for general screening,? Cravett said.

The complaint also cited as false and misleading and not supported by the literature the many claims made by Bittner about the ineffectiveness of mammography:
Mammography misses two out of three breast cancers.
Mammography misses more breast cancer than it finds.
Mammography will mistake benign tissue as possible cancer in four out of five cases, leading to over 500,000 unnecessary biopsies every year.

Neither Cravett nor Candis Cohen, information officer for the California Medical Board, would say whether the investigation was sparked by complaints from specific women. But Cohen said that the mission of the medical board is to protect the consumer.

?Women who need early diagnostic protection may be at risk by not getting the most appropriate test, and that is mammography, not an MRI,? she said. ?By filing this suit, we found the most aggressive and efficient way to attempt to compel Dr. Bittner and AmeriScan to stop their false and misleading advertising.?

Despite the spate of center closings, the D.A.?s office is concerned with Bittner?s recent attempts to sell franchises. The AmeriScan business model is based on false and misleading information to get the customers in the door, Cravett said.

?To the extent that Bittner is going to be reinventing himself as a franchise business, we want to make sure there is a permanent injunction in place to prevent this type of advertising from being a part of that business model,? she said.

When the American College of Radiology became aware of the investigation, it lent its support, supplying names of eminent breast imagers, according to ACR general counsel William F. Shields. The D.A.?s office has relied on these experts and others in putting the case together, Cravett said.

The ACR in August filed a similar complaint over AmeriScan?s misleading advertising with the Federal Trade Commission, Shields said.

California law is very specific regarding doctors who advertise, Cravett said. If a physician makes a scientific claim, it must be supported by reliable peer-reviewed published scientific studies.

?If not, you can?t make the claim. End of story,? she said.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

More CT screening centers close doors

Clamor for breast MRI could be boon or boondoggle

MRI screening plan puts mammography in crosshairs

Experts question use of MRI as breast screening tool

-- By C.P. Kaiser