False Alarms and Unnecessary Upsets

Women with false-positive mammograms report extreme anxiety and reduced quality of life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Patients with false-positive breast cancer mammograms report serious anxiety and a reduced quality of life for at least one year, according to new research from the Netherlands.

Scientists found some women who experienced false-positive mammograms, which indicates an abnormality even when cancer isn't present, experienced worse anxiety than even those who received an actual breast cancer diagnosis. Results from the study appear in the British Journal of Surgery.

Programs for the early detection of breast cancer have been successful in reducing breast cancer diagnosis, said lead author Dr. Lideke van der Steeg from the Department of Surgery, St Elisabeth Hospital, Tilburg, and the Centre of Research and Psychology in Somatic Diseases, Tilburg University.

However, van der Steeg added, while some women benefit from these measures, others who received false-positive results -- especially those who are prone to anxiety -- experienced a reduction in their quality of life for up to a year after the results.

Researchers looked at abnormal mammograms in women attending three hospitals over a five-year span. Quality of life was measured by the World Health Organization's Quality of Life instrument 100, which assesses six quality-of-life realms: physical health, psychological health, level of independence, social relationships, environment and spirituality. Average ages differed among the false-positive group (57.3 years of age) and the breast cancer group (60.2 years of age).

The researchers found: Trait anxiety (a proneness to anxiety) accounted for up to 55 per cent of the difference in quality-of-life scores in the false-positive group (FP) and breast cancer (BC) group; state anxiety (temporary anxiety resulting from a specific situation) accounted for as much as 46 percent of the variance between the two groups; and state anxiety levels did not comprehensively influence quality-of-life scores in the FP group, just as trait anxiety levels did not appear to influence quality of life in the BC group.

False positive reports are estimated to occur in 60 percent of abnormal mammograms.

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Review Date: 
January 17, 2011
Last Updated:
January 18, 2011