False-positive mammograms may cause psychological distress

Women who receive false-positive mammograms are more likely to experience psychological problems such as anxiety.

Swedish researchers analyzed the responses of 399 women to a questionnaire to investigate the psychological impact of false-positive results. The questionnaire was designed to gauge how the women felt and was initially completed by the women before they were told they were free from cancer.

Moreover, nearly 500 control participants who had negative screening results also completed questionnaires. The researchers found that large number of participants who received false-positive results experienced negative psychological effects following their mammography but before knowing they did not have cancer.

The study found that 88 % of the women said they felt a sense of dejection, 83 % experienced anxiety, 67 % reported decreased concentration and 53 % suffered sleeping problems. The researchers noted that around a third of women involved in the study experienced the negative effects on self-esteem, behavior and sleeping up to 1 year after receiving the screening results.

“This is important because women invited to attend mammographic screening should be informed about the potential benefits and harm of the program,” said Anetta Bolejko, from the Department of Medical Imaging at Skane University Hospital. “The risk of long-term psychological consequences of false-positive screening mammography should be acknowledged.”

Mammography, X-ray imaging of the breast, is one of the most common methods of breast cancer diagnosis. Mammograms make it possible for practitioners to detect tumors that cannot be felt and to check for further evidence of cancer after a lump has been identified.

Sometimes an abnormal result that suggests malignant cells are present is later proven to be incorrect. These results are referred as false-positive results. False-positive results are most common among younger women, women who have previously had breast biopsies, women taking estrogen and those with a family history of breast cancer. IMAGE/Jean-Paul Pelissier/REUTERS

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