I noticed via a recent news release, that 2 Queensland women are pursuing medical negligence claims via Maurice Blackburn, Lawyers, against BreastScreen Queensland.

This follows the O’Gorman case in Sydney in late 2008. In that case Ms O’Gorman was successful against the New South Wales equivalent, BreastScreen NSW, which was found negligent in relation to a screening mammogram. Ms O’Gorman had breast cancer that should have been identified. By the time it was, her cancer had progressed. At the time of trial, she was given only a very short period to live.

As with O’Gorman, these new cases appear to arise from routine breast screening mammograms being read as normal, when it is alleged they were abnormal. In 1 of the 2 women’s cases, the delay in identification and treatment is alleged to have resulted in spread of her cancer such that she has been given 2 years to live.


Coming so soon after O’Gorman, this further litigation raises 2 questions in my mind:

1) is there a systemic ‘problem’ with this routine breast screening service (which I believe is provided in all States and certainly in West Australia)? and/or

2) is there an issue about patient expectations as to the accuracy/reliability of this mammogram screening service in identifying (or leading to identification through further investigation) breast cancer?

Even if the 2nd is the case (as I think more likely) and some patients have an unrealistic expectation of the pick up rate from the service, this still raises an important issue as to BreastScreen’s obligation to ensure its patients don’t have such perception and don’t attach too much weight to a ‘normal’ mammogram result. This is particularly so if they have other reasons for concern, such as apparent growth in a lump etc.