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Study: False-Positive Mammograms Increase Anxiety Temporarily

Study: False-Positive Mammograms Increase Anxiety Temporarily

April 23, 2014 — Women who receive false-positive results from breast cancer screenings experience slightly "increased anxiety" that ends within one year, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Reuters reports.

A false-positive result usually occurs when a mammogram suggests the possibility of breast cancer, but follow-up tests find that there is no cancer present.

A woman who undergoes annual mammograms over a 10-year period has about a 61% chance of having at least one false-positive result, according to Kurt Kroenke of the Regenstrief Institute, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study (Seaman, Reuters, 4/21).

Study Methods

The study followed more than 1,000 women of similar ages who were tested at the same medical centers and were not diagnosed with breast cancer. Of the women, 494 had false-positive readings on a mammogram and 534 had negative results (Kaplan, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/21).

The researchers first interviewed the women after their mammogram -- usually before they knew they were actually cancer-free -- and again a year later (Reuters, 4/21). The women also completed a survey about their general health, anxiety levels and their breast-related medical care during the year after their mammograms. The women's anxiety levels were rated on a scale of 20 to 80, with 20 being least anxious and 80 most anxious.

Study Findings

The study found that women in the false-positive group scored an average of 36 on the anxiety scale after their mammogram but before they received the final results, and an average of 35 after they learned they were cancer-free. Meanwhile, women who received negative results after their initial mammogram scored an average of 33.

After a year, the average score for women in the false-positive group decreased to 34 and the score for women with normal mammograms stayed the same. Women with false-positive mammograms reported more breast-related medical treatment than women with normal mammograms. For example, 14.6% of women with false-positive results had a biopsy, compared with 1.1% of women with normal mammograms, the Los Angeles Times' "Science Now" reports.

About 50% of women in the false-positive group said their anxiety related to follow-up care was "moderate," "a lot," or "extreme," compared with 15.6% of women with negative mammogram results. However, 93% of women in both groups reported they would have another mammogram in the next two years ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/21).

Meanwhile, the researchers found no difference between the two groups on a measure of overall health after receiving mammogram results, which was what they were most interested in, according to Reuters (Reuters, 4/21).