All women over the age of 40 or 50 are urged to have a routine mammogram test for breast cancer – but they’re not told that around 25 per cent of the results are false-positives where cancers are detected that aren’t really there. Many of the victims live with the belief they have breast cancer for more than a year before the mistake is rectified, a new study has found.
During that year, many women suffer serious anxiety and their lives are wrecked, researchers have discovered after they questioned 385 women with abnormal mammogram results. Of these, just 152 were diagnosed with breast cancer, but the other 233 had false-positive results.
In fact, around 60 per cent of all abnormal results are false-positives, say the researchers from St Elisabeth Hospital in Tilburg in the Netherlands, while the false-positive rate for all mammograms is around 24 per cent. However, nobody tells the women about the high rate of false-positives, and many suffer from anxiety during the following 12 months and their lives are ruined.
“The women who received false-positives in our study experienced a significant reduction in their quality of life, especially if they were prone to anxiety, and the effects of this lasted at least a year,” said lead researcher Dr Lideke van der Steeg.
(Source: British Journal of Surgery, 2010; doi: 10.1002/bjs.7371).