False-positive mammograms and long-term stress

April 11, 2013

A mammogram showing an abnormal finding can result in stress and anxiety for as long as 3 years for some women, even if the finding is determined to be a “false positive,” according to a study that appeared in the March/April issue of The Annals of Family Medicine.

 

A mammogram showing an abnormal finding can result in stress and anxiety for as long as 3 years for some women, even if the finding is determined to be a “false positive,” according to a study that appeared in the March/April issue of The Annals of Family Medicine.

The researchers in Denmark who conducted the study came to the surprising conclusion that 3 years after a false-positive finding, women experience psychosocial consequences ranging between those of women with a normal mammogram and those with a diagnosis of breast cancer.

In a cohort study with a 3-year follow-up, the researchers recruited 454 women with abnormal findings in screening mammography over a 1-year period. For each woman with an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram (false and true positives), the researchers recruited another 2 women with normal screening results who were screened the same day at the same clinic. These participants were asked to complete the Consequences of Screening in Breast Cancer questionnaire-a validated questionnaire encompassing 12 psychosocial outcomes-at baseline and at 1, 6, 18, and 36 months.

Six months after final diagnosis, women with false-positive findings reported changes in “existential values and inner calmness” as great as those reported by women with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Three years after being declared free of cancer, women with false-positive results consistently reported greater negative psychosocial consequences compared with women who had normal findings in all 12 psychosocial outcomes.

The researchers concluded that “false-positive screening mammography causes long-term psychosocial harm.”