Screening and Cognitive Impairment: Ethics of Forgoing Mammography in Older Women

Barrie L. Raik, Franklin G. Miller, Joseph Fins

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Mammographic screening for breast cancer in cognitively impaired women poses significant ethical questions. Many woman with dementia should not be screened because of the greater harm than benefits and the difficulty in obtaining informed consent. This article reviews the current controversy about mammography and then suggests a risk/benefit analysis for this vulnerable population. Autonomy, decision-making capacity, and the roles of surrogates and physicians are considered, as are ageism and the risk of undertreatment. The harm of overdiagnosis and subsequent overtreatment for women who are cognitively impaired, have comorbidity and a limited life span are outlined. In these cases, the burdens of mammography outweigh the benefits. For women with early cognitive impairment and longer life expectancies, the potential benefits may out-weigh the harms. A decision-making process by the patient, proxy, and practitioner that takes account of foreseeable risks and benefits, patient capacity and preferences, and the effect of this screening intervention on quality of life is outlined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)440-444
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2004


  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Mammography
  • Medical ethics
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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