The possibility to have a false positive mammogram acts like fuel for the debates regarding whether it is useful to have a mammogram or not.
A false positive refers to the situation when the doctors see something on the mammogram that looks like a tumor, but turns out to be something normal.
What to think?
If you have a false positive, at the end you get some good news: you don’t have breast cancer.
However people are suspicious about it and they have other follow up tests and procedures and in some cases they end up having a biopsy.
This means that there are economic, physical and psychological costs of a false positive.
According to one of the recent studies conducted in Denmark, the women whose results were false positive turn out to be more likely to be affected by the cancer later compared to the women who never received a false positive result.
The researchers of the study worked with 58,000 women who had mammograms between 1991 and 2005.
The ages of the women were between 50 and 69 and the mammograms were performed as part of a national screening campaign. The women were followed for 11 years.
It is true that there were some false positives, but their number dropped in the recent years. In 1991 the chances of a false positive were of 5.6%.
This dropped to 1.4% in 2005. This means that the accuracy of the screening improved.
The women who had a false positive result had 67% higher chances to be diagnosed with breast cancer within 6-12 years after the false positive result. After 11 years, the doctors saw that 339 breast cancers were diagnosed among the women who never had a false positive result.
On the other hand there were 583 cases of breast cancer among the women who had false positive results.
At this moment, the researchers don’t know exactly why the women who had previous false positive results have higher chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer. In some cases it is possible that while women didn’t have breast cancer, they had something that was the beginning of breast cancer.
No matter what the reason may be, a false positive suggests that the woman in question has much higher chances of being diagnosed later with the cancer than her counterparts who never had a false positive result.