How do we achieve informed choice for women considering breast screening?

Prev Med. 2011 Sep;53(3):144-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.06.013. Epub 2011 Jun 24.


Objective: In current medical literature, mammography and other cancer screening programs are subject to controversy because of debate about the magnitude and nature of the benefits and harms. This paper discusses the issues around informed choice for women considering breast screening.

Method: We discuss qualitative and quantitative studies of women's attitudes to breast screening and informed choice.

Results: Women view breast screening as a way of avoiding potential regret, and reassurance from normal results is highly valued. Screening participants acknowledge anxiety about false positives but awareness regarding potential overdetection of indolent breast cancer is minimal, and research is needed to assess how better understanding of screening downsides may affect women's views. In any case, weighing up screening advantages and disadvantages is sensitive to personal preferences.

Conclusions: Communicators have an ethical obligation to make balanced information available to women, which is flexible enough to respond to the level of detail and involvement desired by each individual. Many women want to know more and to participate more actively in screening decisions. Techniques have been developed to present balanced information and support individual decision making in ways that are accessible and empowering for the wider community. Evaluations of breast cancer screening must integrate clinical data with evidence on the perspectives of women themselves.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Choice Behavior / ethics*
  • Decision Making
  • Early Detection of Cancer / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Education
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / psychology*
  • Patient Education as Topic / ethics
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Women's Health / ethics*