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False-Positive Mammograms have Limited Impact on Women's Long-term Well-Being

Apr 22, 2014 11:33 AM EDT

False-positive mammogram anxiety does not negatively impact a woman's overall well-being, Dartmouth researchers found in a recent study.

Anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of women who undergo routine mammogram screenings during a 10-year period will experience a false-positive mammogram. Researchers have long suspected that women who must undergo additional testing, often including a biopsy, after a false-positive result experience increased anxiety.

"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," principal author Anna N. A. Tosteson, of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, said in a statement.

In the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers explained that false-positives did cause anxiety, but it was short-lived, and did not deter women from submitting to future screenings.

"Women who had been through the experience didn't think it was such a bad thing," Tosteson told HealthDay.

The research team analyzed responses from more than 1,000 women, about half with false-positives, from interviews done right after the screening and again a year later. Participants answered questions about anxiety, their health-related quality of life and how likely they were to have a mammogram in the future.

Among those with a false-positive result, more than half said their anxiety was moderate or high and about 5 percent said their anxiety was extreme right after the screening result.

"At one year, there was no measurable increase in anxiety for anyone," Tosteson noted.

Additionally, a false positive actually increased women's intentions to use breast cancer screening in the future. When asked if they planned to have another mammogram within the next two years, about 25 percent of the women with false positives said they did.

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