Health + Wellness

Can False-Positive Mammograms Be Avoided?


Mammograms have proven to be successful in detecting breast cancer early for many women. In fact, it can be crucial in saving the lives of Black women, who are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Unfortunately, that annual screening may come with a health scare. Fully half of all women who have annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer will receive a false-positive test result over a decade of screening, according to a new study.

False-positive results call for further testing and eventually rule out cancer. False alarms can certainly increase anxiety.

RELATED: Recommended for a Breast Biopsy? Here’s What to Expect

Can false positives be avoided?

“Women undergoing screening mammography should be aware that being recalled for additional imaging is common and try not to worry,” says study author Diana Miglioretti, a professor and division chief of biostatistics at the University of California, Davis. “Most of the time, the additional imaging shows that everything is normal.”

For the study, Miglioretti and her colleagues analyzed data from close to 3 million screening mammograms for more than 903,000 women between 40 and 79 years of age. The participants underwent breast cancer screening between 2005 and 2018 at 126 radiology centers.

The study found that the risk of false-positive results is lower in women who are screened every other year.

Yearly screening with newer 3D technology called digital breast tomosynthesis or 3D mammography modestly decreased the odds of a false positive when compared with the standard digital 2D mammography.

Of women who received a false-positive result after an annual 3D mammogram, 17% needed additional imaging, and 11% needed a biopsy to rule out cancer. These numbers were just slightly higher among women screened with digital 2D mammograms.

Older women and women who don’t have dense breasts were less likely to get a false-positive result, the study showed.

You can also reduce your risk by making sure to transfer over any old images if you change doctors or facilities so doctors can compare them and better spot any changes.

How often should you get a screening?

There’s been an ongoing debate within the medical community about how often women should undergo breast cancer screening.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women who are at average risk for breast cancer get their first mammogram at

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