ACR and SBI Question False-Positive Mammography Study

March 20, 2013

The ACR and SBI took issue with a recent study on the long-term mental anguish caused by false-positives from mammograms.

A recent study reporting the long-term mental anguish in women who obtain false-positives from mammograms should be taken with a grain of salt, say the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging (SBR). The study findings, published earlier this month in the Annals of Family Medicine, stated that false-positive findings on screening mammography cause long-term harm.

Researchers from Denmark surveyed 454 women who had received abnormal mammography findings following screening over one year. Researchers recruited two women with normal results for each woman who had abnormal results, all from the same day and same clinic. The women completed a validated questionnaire, the Consequences of Screening in Breast Cancer, at baseline, one, six, 18, and 36 months. The questionnaire covers 12 psychosocial outcomes.

The researchers found that six months after the final diagnosis, women who received 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 later, these women reported “greater negative psychosocial consequences compared with women who had normal findings in all 12 psychosocial outcomes.”

The study authors concluded that the false-positive findings had long-term implications on women’s psychological health.

The ACR and SBI questioned the methodology of the study, citing irregularities in the analysis, such as if the women with false-positive findings also had a family history of breast cancer, what further testing was done, and where the women completed the survey (at home or at the clinic).

 “Anxiety regarding inconclusive test results is real and only natural,” the groups said in a release. “Physicians continue to refine the reporting process to ensure that patients receive results as quickly as possible. Attention to women’s feelings associated with test results is, and should be, a concern for those who provide this care.”

The organizations emphasized that the benefits of breast cancer screening outweigh potential harm.