False Positives for Mammograms – Why?

If a woman has to receive a false report from a mammography screening, I’m sure most women would prefer it to be a false-positive – well, if caught early enough anyway, BEFORE surgical intervention. A false-negative delays early treatment that is imperative for a positive outcome for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

According to a study published in the October, 18 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, after ten years of annual mammography screening for breast cancer, more than 60 percent of women will receive at least one false-positive recall, and seven to nine percent have been asked to get a biopsy. The study compared the cumulative probability of false-positive results after 10 years of annual or biennial screening mammography. When screening began at 40 years of age, the cumulative probability of receiving at least one false-positive recall and one false-positive biopsy recommendation was 61.3 and 7.0 percent, respectively, for annual screening, and 41.6 and 4.8 percent, respectively, for biennial screening. Similar estimates were obtained when screening started at age 50 years.

Research has shown that false-positive mammograms may affect women’s well-being and behavior, as some women who receive false-positive results may be more likely to return for routine screening, or perform breast self-examinations more frequently. Unfortunately, some women who receive false-positive results become anxious and worried, feelings that can be very difficult to overcome.