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Researchers Learn How Women Feel After A False-Positive Result From A Mammogram

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MAMMOGRAM
Mehmed Zelkovic via Getty Images

More women who get a false-positive result from a mammogram -- which is when a mammogram result is deemed abnormal by a radiologist, but no cancer ends up being present -- say they are likely to undergo future breast screening, compared with women who get back a negative result, according to a new study.

In addition, half of women who get false positive results on a mammogram report anxiety at moderate levels or higher, the study showed.

The findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, are based on data from telephone surveys conducted involving 1,226 women who recently underwent breast screening as part of the Digital Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial. Follow-up interviews were then conducted with 1,028 of the women; of those women, 534 had received negative results on their mammograms, while 494 received false-positive results on their mammograms.

Researchers found that half of women who got a false-positive on their mammogram -- 50.6 percent -- reported experiencing moderate or higher levels of anxiety from the results. And 4.6 percent of women who got a false-positive reported feeling extreme anxiety.

"Although there is concern that the health and psychological burden of false-positive mammograms may not be justified when weighed relative to the few additional breast cancers that routine screening would identify among younger women, we found that a false-positive mammogram had only transient effect on anxiety," the researchers wrote in the study. "Our finding differs from recent reports of longer-term effect of false-positive mammograms on specific psychological outcomes." However, the researchers noted that false positives did have a measurable effect on personal anxiety, and "further research should address opportunities for reducing this anxiety."

In addition, more women who received a false-positive result said they were "more likely" to undergo breast screening in the future, compared with those who got negative results -- 25.7 percent, compared with 14.2 percent.

The frequency with which women should receive breast cancer screening is not agreed upon by all medical bodies -- the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, for instance, recommends women start breast cancer screening at age 50, and be screened every two years. However, other organizations, including the American Cancer Society, say women should be screened annually starting at age 40, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to the National Cancer Institute, women with a family history of breast cancer, younger women, women taking estrogen and women who have undergone previous breast biopsies are more at risk for a false-positive result from a mammogram.

In addition, a 2013 study from UC San Francisco researchers showed that the risk of false-positives is lower when 50-to-74-year-old women get mammograms every two years, compared with every year.

 
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