False Positive Mammograms Can Stress Women for Years

June 20, 2015 Updated: June 20, 2015
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Women who receive a false positive breast cancer diagnosis may still feel signs of stress and depression years later. Scientists say improving mammogram accuracy could help.

Women who have been through a mammography screening that initially shows signs of something being wrong, but at follow-up examinations are declared healthy, can be slow to feel reassured.

For each woman who dies of breast cancer, there are 200 women who receive a false positive.
— John Brodersen, associate research professor, University of Copenhagen

“Our new study shows that facing a potential breast cancer diagnosis has a negative effect. So far, we have believed that women who only had to undergo physical examinations or additional mammography would feel mentally better than women who had to undergo biopsy or surgery,” said Bruno Heleno from the Research Unit for General Practice at the University of Copenhagen.

“It now turns out that there is no difference between having to undergo a physical examination or surgery. Being told that you may have cancer is what affects, stresses, and worries you.”

Reduce False Positives

The study excluded other factors, such as social and financial conditions, which may otherwise affect a woman’s mental state.

For the study, published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine, researchers followed 1,300 women for four years. The women, all who had been through a mammography screening requiring follow-up examinations, completed five questionnaires with questions about their mental state, for example.

The results showed that the women were deeply affected by the false alarm even several years after they found out they didn’t have breast cancer.

“We must do everything we can to reduce the number of false-positive mammograms. We must also be better at informing … women that there may be psychological consequences associated with a mammography screening, and that many women receive false positives,” said John Brodersen, associate research professor.

“For each woman who dies of breast cancer, there are 200 women who receive a false positive. We may consider discussing whether the negative effects of mammography outweigh the positive effects, and whether it is time to reassess the mammography screening program.”

This article was originally published by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Republished via Futurity.org under Creative Commons License 4.0.