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Half of all women screened for breast cancer will have one false-positive result

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Half of all women who have regular mammogram check-ups will at some stage be told they have breast cancer when they don’t.

Any woman who has an annual mammogram runs a 50 percent risk of at least one false-positive reading if she is screened every year for 10 years, a new study has discovered.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis Health discovered the new 3D tomosynthesis mammograms are every bit as unreliable as the older 2D technology.  They analysed data from around 3 million mammogram results and found that half of the 903,000 women screened would have been given at least one false-positive result during 10 years of screening.  The older 2D technology was producing a 56 percent false-positive rate.

Not surprisingly, the rate of false-positives drops in women who are screened less frequently.

Around 11 percent of the women given a false-positive went on to have a biopsy.  A false-positive can be devastating for any woman who thinks she has breast cancer when she doesn’t. It causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety and worry for the woman, and extra costs for the hospital, says Diana Miglioretti, one of the researchers.

It’s important that doctors understand the very real chances of a false reading and reassure patients that they may not have cancer. 

(Source: JAMA Network Open, 2022; 5: e222440)

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Article Topics: breast cancer, mammography
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