Breast Density Notification: An Australian Perspective

J Clin Med. 2020 Mar 3;9(3):681. doi: 10.3390/jcm9030681.


Breast density, also known as mammographic density, refers to white and bright regions on a mammogram. Breast density can only be assessed by mammogram and is not related to how breasts look or feel. Therefore, women will only know their breast density if they are notified by the radiologist when they have a mammogram. Breast density affects a woman's breast cancer risk and the sensitivity of a screening mammogram to detect cancer. Currently, the position of BreastScreen Australia and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists is to not notify women if they have dense breasts. However, patient advocacy organisations are lobbying for policy change. Whether or not to notify women of their breast density is a complex issue and can be framed within the context of both public health ethics and clinical ethics. Central ethical themes associated with breast density notification are equitable care, patient autonomy in decision-making, trust in health professionals, duty of care by the physician, and uncertainties around evidence relating to measurement and clinical management pathways for women with dense breasts. Legal guidance on this issue must be gained from broad legal principles found in the law of negligence and the test of materiality. We conclude a rigid legal framework for breast density notification in Australia would not be appropriate. Instead, a policy framework should be developed through engagement with all stakeholders to understand and take account of multiple perspectives and the values at stake.

Keywords: breast cancer screening; breast density; clinical ethics; duty of care; health policy; mammogram; mammographic density.