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False Positive Mammogram May Not Be False

April 6, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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False positives, a point of contention in the mammography wars, may actually not be totally false. They may indicate an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a new study published online Thursday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

A false positive finding for breast cancer can cause needless anxiety as well as pain from a biopsy. But if it actually indicates an underlying abnormality or perhaps a missed cancer, then it could be a valuable signal to more closely monitor a patient’s health.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark studied outcomes for 58,003 women, ages 50 to 69, who participated in Copenhagen’s mammography screening program from 1991 to 2005. The determined that the overall absolute cancer rate was 339 per 100,000 person-years of risk for women with negative results compared with 583 per 100,000 person-years of risk for women with false positive results.

The study noted:

Women with false-positive tests manifest suspicious mammographic patterns in their breast tissue, including tumor-like masses, suspicious microcalcifications, skin thickening or retraction, recently retracted nipples, distortions, asymmetric densities, or suspicious axillary lymph nodes.

Yikes. The researchers said those suspicious patterns in breast tissue may eventually develop into detectable cancer, even if an initial screening test returns a false positive.

The study is less definitive than one might hope. For one thing, it found that the higher risk of eventual cancer in the false-positive group in the 1990s disappeared in the early 2000s, possibly because of better equipment and screening techniques.

Still, the study concluded, “Even with newer screening methods, women with false-positive tests should be encouraged to use regular mammographic screening because a false-positive test may indicate underlying pathology that could result in breast cancer.”

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Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography (brand new)

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