Health Team

Doctors recommend annual mammograms despite false positives

Posted October 18, 2011 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2011 6:28 p.m. EDT

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.”

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.