The role of communication in breast cancer screening: a qualitative study with Australian experts

BMC Cancer. 2015 Oct 19:15:741. doi: 10.1186/s12885-015-1749-0.


Background: One well-accepted strategy for optimising outcomes in mammographic breast cancer screening is to improve communication with women about screening. It is not always clear, however, what it is that communication should be expected to achieve, and why or how this is so. We investigated Australian experts' opinions on breast screening communication. Our research questions were: 1 What are the views of Australian experts about communicating with consumers on breast screening? 2 How do experts reason about this topic?

Methods: We used a qualitative methodology, interviewing 33 breast screening experts across Australia with recognisable influence in the Australian mammographic breast cancer screening setting. We used purposive and theoretical sampling to identify experts from different professional roles (including clinicians, program managers, policy makers, advocates and researchers) with a range of opinions about communication in breast screening.

Results: Experts discussed the topic of communication with consumers by focusing on two main questions: how strongly to guide consumers' breast cancer screening choices, and what to communicate about overdiagnosis. Each expert adopted one of three approaches to consumer communication depending on their views about these topics. We labelled these approaches: Be screened; Be screened and here's why; Screening is available please consider whether it's right for you. There was a similar level of support for all three approaches. Experts' reasoning was grounded in how they conceived of and prioritised their underlying values including: delivering benefits, avoiding harms, delivering more benefits than harms, respecting autonomy and transparency.

Conclusions: There is disagreement between experts regarding communication with breast screening consumers. Our study provides some insights into this persisting lack of consensus, highlighting the different meanings that experts give to values, and different ways that values are prioritised. We suggest that explicit discussion about ethical values might help to focus thinking, clarify concepts and promote consensus in policy around communication with consumers. More specifically, we suggest that decision-makers who are considering policy on screening communication should begin with identifying and agreeing on the specific values to be prioritised and use this to guide them in establishing what the communication aims will be and which communication strategy will achieve those aims.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Communication*
  • Decision Making*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity / trends
  • Qualitative Research