So, the radiology clinic called. Can you come back? The mammogram wasn’t quite clear. There might be something there.
About 1 in 10 women who receive a digital screening mammogram will be called back for another look.1 Of those, six will have a false positive, meaning the doctor thought there was something on the scan but it turns out to be nothing.1
Younger women, women with dense breasts, those who had a previous biopsy, women with a family history of breast cancer, or women taking estrogen are more prone to have a false positive.2
So most likely there’s nothing to worry about. But just to be sure, the doctor may want to do another mammogram, a contrast mammogram, an ultrasound, or even an MRI to get a better look. In a few cases, you might even need a biopsy. 3 And if it is something, well, chances are it’s been caught early when it’s most treatable because you went for that initial mammogram.
Which is why it’s so important not to let a false positive spook you. Too often, women who have a false positive result, let the fear of another keep them from their next mammogram. 4 That’s a huge mistake because there’s some evidence that women who have a false positive reading have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer over the next 10 years.5
To reduce the risk of future false positives, ask your doctor about a screening exam with digital mammography plus digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT). There’s some evidence that the two together results in lower false positives compared to digital mammograms alone.3,6
- American College of Radiology. This is What Happens When 100 Women Get a Mammogram. https://www.acr.org/-/media/ACR/Images/Clinical-Resources/Breast-Imaging-Resources/MammographyScreeningFacts.jpg. Accessed June 5, 2018.
- Nelson HD, Pappas M, Cantor A, Griffin J, Daeges M, Humphrey L. Harms of Breast Cancer Screening: Systematic Review to Update the 2009 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164(4):256-267.
- Dabbous FM, Dolecek TA, Berbaum ML, et al. Impact of a False-Positive Screening Mammogram on Subsequent Screening Behavior and Stage at Breast Cancer Diagnosis. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017.
- Henderson LM, Benefield T, Marsh MW, et al. The influence of mammographic technologists on radiologists’ ability to interpret screening mammograms in community practice. Acad Radiol. 2015;22(3):278-289.
- Román M, Hofvind S, von Euler-Chelpin M, Castells X. Long-term risk of screen-detected and interval breast cancer after false-positive results at mammography screening: joint analysis of three national cohorts. Br J Cancer. 2019;120(2):269-275.
- Seely JM, Alhassan T. Screening for breast cancer in 2018-what should we be doing today? Curr Oncol. 2018;25(Suppl 1):S115-S124.