Women, Great News: Breast Cancer False Positives Don't Harm Us for Life!

Not sure I agree with t his but a new study has found that women who get false positives on mammograms only suffer for a short time.  It doesn't affect their overall well-being.

As someone who (twice) received positive positives, I suppose I can't really comment on this.  But I can't believe that some women aren't, if not, scarred for life, at least thinking about life a little differently after that.  

According to newswise.com, "Dartmouth researchers have found that the anxiety experienced with a false-positive mammogram is temporary and does not negatively impact a woman’s overall well-being."

The Web site goes on to note that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of women who undergo routine screening mammography during a ten-year period will experience a false-positive mammogram (guess I beat the stats!). 

Such mammograms require additional testing, sometimes involving a biopsy, to confirm that cancer is not present. Researchers have suspected that increased anxiety, pain and the bother of additional tests might adversely affect the quality of life for women who experience false-positive screening mammograms. 

I had several biopsies where it turned out cancer was not at the site, so I don't know if this qualifies as a false positive.  But I can tell you the days (more than a week) I spent waiting to see if my first biopsy was cancer were devastating (even more so when it turned out to be).  And I had to go through it twice because the original needle biopsy couldn't show clearly enough what was going on, so then I had to wait through a surgical biopsy, too.

“Most policy analyses of breast cancer screening have used assumptions about the harms of screening on health and overall well-being based on expert opinion rather than patient-reported outcomes,” neswise quotesprincipal author Anna N. A. Tosteson, ScD, James J. Carroll Professor of Medicine, professor of Community and Family Medicine and of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and co-director of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s Cancer Control Research Program. “The study did not support these assumptions, and gave us evidence that a false-positive mammogram experience has a limited impact on women’s overall well-being.”

My mother had many biopsies of cysts removed from her breasts during her life (in those days, you spent a week in the hospital, unlike today, where you're in and out in about three hours), and she was always so terrified they'd turn out to be malignant.  They never did, but it always took her a while to recover from the fear that they might be.

While, undeniably, false-positive mammograms were associated with a temporary increase in women’s anxiety, they had no measurable influence on overall health and well-being, is the bottom line.  Just wish I'd had a few!


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