It is estimated that half of all women who have an annual mammogram in the U.S. will need to return for follow-up treatment or testing due an abnormality found on their mammogram.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation claims that false-positives are more common with the increase of the number of mammograms a woman has in her lifetime.
Nearly 50 to 60% of women at any given time will be told that something was found during their mammogram and they need to immediately return to have further mammograms, ultrasounds and, in some cases, biopsies. Those are awfully sobering numbers for testing that is billed as a life saver for detecting and surviving breast cancer.
Although the necessity of this type of testing to detect early stages of cancer is essential, the stress, physical and emotional turmoil a false-positive creates cannot be ignored. Any unknown, especially with a potentially fatal disease diagnosis, can create fear both for the patient and her family members. The time and work lost to return for follow-up testing can also cause an emotional and financial impact. Enduring biopsies or surgical treatments, particularly when the results are negative, can only increase the emotional costs, leaving physical scars in the process.
In recent years, cancer experts have disputed both the age at which a woman should be when she begins to have mammograms and the frequency at which she should have them performed. Some experts believe that undergoing testing less frequently will lead to fewer false-positives, but it could also lead to a possible increase in missed cancer diagnoses.
A woman needs to be educated in what to expect with a mammogram and discuss the age and frequency with their doctor to better prepare themselves for the emotional and physical toll any potential diagnosis could create. With delayed diagnosis in breast cancer still being one of the most common reasons patients file medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors are likely to continue to err on the side of caution, but that, too, may have its drawbacks.