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Anxiety from False-Positive Mammograms is Only Temporary, Study Finds

Update Date: Apr 22, 2014 10:02 AM EDT

The debate over how often women should get mammograms to screen for breast cancer is never ending. Some studies have reported that frequent mammograms can save lives whereas other studies found that too many mammograms can add anxiety and deter women from getting future screenings. In a new study, researchers addressed both sides and found that even though false-positive mammograms do create anxiety for women, the anxiety is only temporary and does not discourage women from getting more breast screenings in the future.

"Most policy analyses of breast cancer screening have used assumptions about the harms of screening on health and overall well-being based on expert opinion rather than patient-reported outcomes," said principal author Anna N. A. Tosteson, ScD, reported in the University's news release. "The DMIST study did not support these assumptions, and gave us evidence that a false-positive mammogram experience has a limited impact on women's overall well-being."

For this study, the researchers reviewed data from a large clinical trial that involved 1,028 women. 494 of the women had tested positive for breast cancer on the mammogram and went through more tests only to find out that their mammogram reading was a false positive. The rest of the participants had clean mammograms. No one developed cancer during the study.

The researchers used questionnaires to measure the participant's general health four weeks prior to their mammogram and anxiety levels after the mammogram when some of the women believed that their test was concerning. The researchers interviewed the patients once again during the one-year follow-up. The team found that women from both groups rated their general health high, with an average score of 0.90 out of a scale from -0.11 to 1.0, 1.0 being the highest.

Despite good overall health, the researchers did find that the women from the false-positive group reported higher levels of anxiety than the other group. On the scale from 20 to 80, 80 being the highest, women who were told they had concerning mammograms had an average score of 36 whereas women who did not have any problems with their mammograms had an average score of 33. During the one-year follow-up, the women from the false-positive group reported less anxiety with an average score of 34. The anxiety levels for the other group remained the same.

Despite the anxiety false-positive mammograms generated, the researchers found that women were not discouraged to get future mammograms. Around 93 percent of the women from both groups stated that they planned on getting mammograms within the next two years.

"We found that the false-positive experience made women more likely to say they would undergo screening [in the future]," Tosteson stated reported by Philly. "Women who had been through the experience didn't think it was such a bad thing,"

The study, "Consequences of False-Positive Screening Mammograms," was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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