Risk of False Alarm for Breast Cancer
Frederick R. Jelovsek
If you are a woman who gets a mammogram on a fairly regular basis, what is the chance that you will have a distressing false alarm? In other words, what is the chance that you will get a notice or call from your doctor asking you to have some more studies because the mammogram or the breast exam was not entirely normal?
In a recent study, Elmore JG et al: Ten-year risk of false positive screening mammograms and clinical breast examinations. N Engl J Med 1998; 338:1089-96., the investigators studied 2400 women ages 40-69 who had a total of 9762 screening mammograms and 10905 screening breast clinical physical exams over a 10 year period. This averaged 4 mammograms and 5 clinical breast exams during the study time.
Of the women screened, one third had abnormal testing results that required further evaluation.
Breast Cancer Detection
|Study||False Positive Rate|
|Over 10 years|
|After 10 exams*|
|* - Estimated by the authors|
Not all of the suspicious studies lead to breast biopsy, however. The authors did estimate that in women who will not develop breast cancer, 18.6% will undergo biopsy by the time they have had 10 mammograms and 6.2% will undergo breast biopsy by the time they have had 10 breast exams over the age of 40.
Women need to be aware that there is this high of a rate of false alarms. Unfortunately using present technology this is a price we must pay to pick up breast cancers early. Physicians and scientists must continue working to lower these instances of false alarms.
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