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Australian GPs are preparing for new area of women’s health: breast density

20 May 2017

In the May 2017 edition of the Medical Observer, the Inside Story posed the question, “Will [breast] density be as big as the Jolie Effect?”

What is the ‘Jolie Effect’ you ask?  When Angelina Jolie announced she was getting bilateral mastectomies because of her high risk of getting breast cancer, there was an overwhelming response by women wanting to know about their individual risk of developing breast cancer.

The article quoted Dr Mary Rickard, chief radiologist at the Sydney Breast Clinic as saying that the most important factor for women with dense breasts is the increased risk of developing cancer. But [also an important consideration is that] breast density also makes cancers more difficult to detect.

The article also discussed the lag between private and public healthcare in regards to breast density.  Why are private clinics already treating breast density as an important issue to discuss and manage with their patients, while the public institutions, such as Breastscreen*, are not acting on this new information?

Dr Carolyn Nickson, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, who specialises in breast cancer screening research, and who was a contributor to Breastscreen’s new position statement regarding breast density, answered that question quite well.

Incorporating breast density risk would constitute a signicant change to the current screening program, which is targeted according to age.  It would mean using different modalities and a dfferent method of risk stratication.  I do think it will happen but the question is when and how.

 

The whole article is full of helpful information.  If you can get your hands on a copy, we highly recommend it.

 

*As of the publication date of this post, only Breastscreen WA is informing women of their breast density.