610-827-2200

Opinion: Patients Should be Informed of Mammograms' Negatives


Thomas E. Quay, Esquire
Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel
Athena Institute for Women’s Wellnesss


American law considers some relationships so valuable to society: doctor & patient, priest & penitent, lawyer & client, that it awards a privilege against disclosure on communications within that professional relationship.

For physicians and attorneys to keep their state licenses to practice their professions, they must observe the governing ethical standards. Although doctors don’t “reciprocate”, malpractice lawyers do sue physicians on behalf of patients who feel harmed.

Doctors have the professional obligation to fully inform their patients about the risks involved in any proposed test, treatment or medical procedure. The goal here is having the patient sufficiently informed of risks as well as benefits to make her decision to undergo or forego treatment. The physician must explain the pros and cons in language understandable to her patient. Then obtain written or oral “informed consent” from the patient before proceeding.

But if the doctor does not explain the negatives of the proposed treatment or procedure, any “consent” cannot be “informed”. That constitutes a breach of the physician’s duty to his patient. Absent consent, the treatment legally is a “battery”, as in assault and battery.

Necessarily, a physician must stay abreast of developments in her practice field. By 2015 the leading edge of breast cancer research is clearly backing away from advising women "to remember to get your annual mammogram."

My opinion is that a doctor who fails to advise patients of the pain of mammograms, the downsides of overdiagnosis, false positives, radiation, fear, detriments to the patient’s quality of life has not obtained informed consent to a screening mammogram.

Thomas E. Quay, Esquire
Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel
Athena Institute for Women’s Wellness
Member of the Pennsylvania Bar
LL.B University of Pennsylvania
BA. Princeton University