Health Team

Doctors recommend annual mammograms despite false positives

Posted October 18, 2011

Doctors have long recommended annual mammograms for women over 40. According to a new study, however, more than half of women who get the annual screening will get false positive results once every 10 years.

The study also found that as many as 9 percent of those women who get back false positives will have an unnecessary biopsy.

It’s a trend that has some questioning the mammograms, but for doctors, the trend of false positive results isn’t something that would make them not recommend getting the screenings.

It’s still something doctors urge patients to do, and it will continue to be.

Dr. Laurie Margolies, who works at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said the anxiety a false positive may create is a small trade for the chance of actually catching cancer early.

“I think most women would rather deal with a little bit of anxiety than have a cancer that is caught later,” she said.

For Fran Levine, a breast cancer survivor who was first diagnosed 15 years ago, the annual screenings are a must.

“I know there is anxiety. I had anxiety obviously until my biopsy came back and then I have even more anxiety,” Levine, 61, said. “I just think it’s part of the process to go through in order to protect ourselves.”

Mammograms can yield false positives Mammograms can yield false positives

The average mammogram is a quick procedure that uses a noninvasive X-ray targeted to each breast. The X-ray produces pictures that doctors can use to identify and treat any abnormal areas.

Mammograms help detect cancer early, which in many cases is the best way to beat it. Doctors recommend the procedure to all women over 40, even if they have no symptoms or family history of breast cancer.


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  • kikinc Oct 25, 2011

    Tell that to my aunt. Skipped a mammogram ONE year. You know what she got for that? A bilateral mastectomy. An aggressive form of cancer in a lump that could barely be detected by touch. Sure, she could have had a lumpectomy and then radiation/chemo, but it was also found in one of her lymph nodes. There was a good chance if she had opted for the lumpectomy, the cancer would have returned eventually. I'll take the inconvenience of every year, when the time comes for me. I'd rather have a false positive than a true positive, a year too late.

  • beas Oct 24, 2011

    A false positive once every 10 years. And a biopsy. Small price to pay to find out you actually don't have cancer. I would much rather go through this than to have a mammogram every other year and end up with cancer and not find out until 2 years later.

  • fausnaught Oct 20, 2011

    Of course they say you need one EVERY year (in spite of the fact that there is almost NO evidence that it is necessary)... who is it that makes MILLIONS off of these tests? I for one think they are overated- What is wrong with every other year? Or even every three years?

  • adamsearing Oct 19, 2011

    Worth looking at Newsweek's article on this issue recently:

    "Dr. Rita Redberg, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and editor of the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine, has no intention of having a screening mammogram even though her 50th birthday has come and gone. That’s the age at which women are advised to get one. But, says Redberg, they detect too many false positives (suspicious spots that turn out, upon biopsy, to be nothing) and tumors that might regress on their own, and there is little if any evidence that they save lives."

  • sunshine1040 Oct 19, 2011

    Ladies and gentlemen please get your mamograms and do self exams monthly mamagrams do not find them all and yes men get breast cancer too.The life you save could be your childrens parent