False Positive Mammogram Screening Can Have Dire Consequences
How often should a woman schedule a mammography visit? Dr. David Ghozland, a Los Angeles-based OB/GYN, says mammogram screening has become a hotly debated topic, since new guidelines state that waiting longer for screenings reduces the risk of a false-positive result. But what is a “false-positive” and what are the risk factors?
A false-positive mammogram occurs when results indicate a woman has cancer and needs to undergo additional testing, when in fact, she does not actually have cancer. One study reported that 16% of women undergoing a first-time mammogram procedure end up with a false positive diagnosis. This can lead to unwanted stress and costly follow-up testing. Some research also suggests more dire consequences linked to false-positive results.
In the study, researchers analyzed women ages 40 to 74 years for 10 years after their false-positive mammogram. Researchers assessed the association between a false-positive mammogram result and subsequent breast cancer, adjusting for any other potential risk factors during follow-up, the results showed:
- 48,735 cancers were diagnosed
- Compared with women who received a true-negative exam, women with a false positive and who underwent additional imaging had 39% increased cancer risk
- Women with a false positive and a biopsy recommendation showed a 76% higher risk
The results indicate that the breast cancer risk remained elevated up to a decade following a false-positive result. One of the reasons could be that suspicious mammogram findings that turn out to be false could actually be a marker for future cancer risk.
Dr. Ghozland advises his Los Angeles patients to share any concerns they have regarding mammogram results with their OB/GYN. “No one suggests that mammography is a perfect science, but it is the best method we have for detecting breast cancer in its early and most treatable stages.”
Dr. Ghozland adds that if women are concerned about questionable results or being referred for additional testing, they should be sure to talk to their doctor about what follow up screenings are needed, so they can understand all of the risk factors. The bottom line?
“Mammograms save lives.”