False-Positive Mammogram Results

It's human nature to be nervous before undergoing a medical screening test, but for women who have a mammogram, a screening test done in healthy women to detect breast cancer early, the situation can turn serious if the test comes back with a false-positive result. This means the mammogram shows an abnormal area that looks like cancer but is not.

In addition to the anxiety and worrying that you might have breast cancer, a false-positive result requires follow-up with one or more doctors, extra tests and procedures, including an ultrasound, MRI, or even a biopsy. A new study, published in the June 18, 2012 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, found that false-positive mammogram results deter women from attending these further screening appointments and undermine the effective ness of screening programs. But not following up with further screenings can be disastrous.

A Danish study of more than 58,000 women, reported on April 5, 2012, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that women who had false-positive mammograms had a 67 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life compared with women who had negative mammograms.

The researchers aren't sure why women with a false positive mammogram result were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer later on. One theory is the factors that make a woman more likely to develop breast abnormalities that aren't cancer also make her more likely to develop breast cancer. For some women, it could be that even though the false positive wasn't cancer, the beginning of cancer was actually there and found later. Whatever the reason, the research suggests that a false positive mammogram result means a woman has a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the future.

Experts have long known that screening mammograms are bound to lead to some false-positive test results. False-positives are more common in women who have dense breasts or other breast characteristics including

  • benign growths that look like tumors,
  • calcium deposits,
  • skin thickening,
  • newly retracted nipples,
  • or suspicious lymph nodes.

What You Can Do

Breastcancer.org offers these tips to prevent you from receiving a false-positive result in the first place:

  • Ask your doctor if one imaging center is better than another. The expertise of the staff and the technology used, such as digital versus film, can affect the accuracy of mammogram readings.
  • Make sure that your current mammogram is compared to older test as this has been shown to affect the quality of a mammogram interpretation. This is easier to facilitate if you use the same imaging center. If not, you need to ask for your previous records and bring them with you to the new place.
  • Ask if the center has a second person review any suspicious mammograms before the final interpretation is made. This also has been shown to improve the accuracy.

If you've had a false positive mammogram result, get the proper follow-up tests and make sure to continue with breast cancer screenings as recommended. Talk to your doctor and ask if a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan would make sense for you.




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