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False mammogram results

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Nowadays scientists are working on several modern breast cancer diagnostic tests but mammography is still recognized as the most effective breast cancer screening test. Some experts consider mammography as the only screening method that can detect breast cancer early. While screening mammography is not perfect, it is the best way presently doctors can detect early stages of breast cancer while it is most treatable. As most screening tests, mammography is not perfect and it has several advantages and disadvantages. It is well known that mammogram is not 100% accurate but millions of lives were saved by screening mammography. Early breast cancer diagnosis increases survival rates by 25-30%. According to experts, mammograms have certain limits and false mammogram results are described by oncologists, scientists and health providers. Sometimes health experts determine false negative mammogram (looking normal) even when breast cancer is present. Sometimes false positive mammogram (looking abnormal) shows not existing breast cancer. In both cases women suffer because of misdiagnosis.

According to scientific studies, false mammogram results could be observed pretty often – almost in 20-25% cases. Screening mammography missed (do not find) about 1 in 5 breast cancer cases. Young women with dense breasts have increased chances for experiencing false negative breast cancer results. Unfortunately false negative screening mammography can give women false sense of security while cancerous cells are growing. It could lead to spread of cancer and late treatment.

Both positive and false positive screening mammograms require additional tests such as focused diagnostic mammography, breast ultrasound, breast magnetic resonance imaging and breast biopsy.

All women should be eligible for screening mammograms starting at age 40. In cases of breast cancer family history annual screening mammography can be recommended from 30-35.

False mammogram results – false positive mammogram

False mammogram results can be stressful. When screening mammogram shows suspicious abnormal zone that looks like cancer but turns out to be normal, this test called false positive.

False positive mammogram commonly appeared in younger women with dense breasts or in women who use estrogen medication/contraception or in women with previously performed breast biopsies (for several reasons) or in women with breast cancer family history.

Increased frequencies of false positive mammograms were noted during first screening mammography. Women who are involved in breast cancer screening programmes, have less chances for mistakes because old mammograms are available for comparison and for more accurate diagnosis.

False mammogram results

False positive mammogram disadvantages include the following:

  • Emotional stress and anxiety,
  • Useless additional breast cancer traumatic tests,
  • Additional medical expenses,
  • Lost time.

Sometimes false positive mammogram results called “over-diagnosis” which could lead to “over-treatment”. In reality, screening mammography can identify cancerous cells in the lining of breast ducts (invasive breast cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ) which require adequate treatments. According to some scientists not all cancerous cells grow and spread and this is why sometimes people speak about “over-diagnosis” and “over-treatment”. It is true that isolated (limited) breast cancerous cells can be identified only during mammography and it wouldn’t be treated if woman wouldn’t have screening mammography. May be some limited cases of cancerous cells wouldn’t grow or wouldn’t spread but most of them become breast cancer tumors and threaten life. Unfortunately doctors cannot guess which cancerous cells are dangerous and which one can be ignored for the moment of diagnosis. This is why better to recommend adequate treatments for all mentioned cases. Better not to take risks while there is threat of life.

It should be mentioned that over-diagnosis and over-treatments happen not often and depend on staff qualification and quality of equipment (about 1-10% cases of all screening mammography tests).

According to some scientists false positive mammogram results could be linked to higher breast cancer risk later in life. One study suggests that women with false positive mammography results have about 2% risk of developing invasive breast cancer within the next 10 years after false positive result.

False mammogram results – false negative mammogram

False mammogram can be also negative – it is when mammogram looks normal even though breast cancer is present. According to official statistics, false negatives mammogram occurs in 1 of every 2500 screened women. Women with negative mammography results have about 1% risk of developing invasive breast cancer during following 10 years after negative mammogram result. False negative mammogram result could provide false sense of security and could also delay in-time vital treatments.

False negative mammogram results occur more often in younger women with dense breast tissue. Some other factors can also affect the frequency of false negative results – staff qualification, size of tumor, speed of cells grow and period of menstrual cycle (hormonal levels).

False mammogram results – important points

Screening mammography is able to identify very small breast cancerous tumors before woman is able to clarify breast cancer typical symptoms;

In spite of false mammogram results, screening mammography can save women lives by identifying very early stages of breast cancer;

Early breast cancer diagnosis increases survival rates by 25-30%;

Annual screening mammography is recommended to all women from 40;

Women should start annual screening mammography earlier (at 30-35) in cases of existence of risk factors such as breast cancer family history, breast lumps, breast cancer symptoms or previous breast surgery;

Mammography is safe and radiation exposure is minimal;

Younger women with dense breast tissue should try Molecular Breast Imaging or Digital Tomosynthesis (3-D)or ultrasound test or MRI.


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