10:14 AM

False Positives Affect Mammogram Habits

A new study finds women who are called back for further testing after a mammogram delay or even skip future screenings.

A new study finds a false positive on a mammogram can directly impact a woman’s future breast cancer screening habits.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (CEBP), indicates call-backs for further testing – or false positives – cause some women to delay or even skip their next screening.

The finding highlights an alarming reaction to false positive mammography results. According to OSF HealthCare Breast Radiologist Dr. Kelly Kennell, a request for follow-up testing shouldn’t automatically trigger a fear response.

“Most often, it’s something that’s okay,” she said. “But it’s just an area we need a closer look at to try to tell if everything is okay.”


The American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and American College of Radiology agree that women with an average risk of breast cancer should schedule annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

“Since we don’t know one thing that causes breast cancer, the only way we know how to find it is to screen for it. Breast cancer does start as one cell and eventually it grows to something we are able to see on a mammogram. We are trying to find cancer on a mammography image before a patient is able to feel it, so it’s easier to treat,” said Dr. Kennell.


According to the CEBP study, women who are recommended to have annual screenings and had a call back tended to delay their next test for over a year. This is compared to a three- to six-month delay for women whose tests had clear negative results.

This delay can directly affect a woman's chances of survival if breast cancer is later diagnosed, since many cancers can’t be detected at early stages without screening.

“There are lots of cancers that are unable to be felt, that are way in the back of the breast, or that are so small that patients can’t feel them,” said Dr. Kennell. “Breast cancer is a surgical disease still, so we do not want to leave cancer cells behind in the body, so we would want to take care of that if we found it.”


Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, exceeded only by lung cancer.

Statistics indicate one in eight women will develop breast cancer sometime in her lifetime. Early detection is directly linked to higher survival rates; if detected early, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.