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The psychosocial consequences of mammography.

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  • 1Duke University Medical Center, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Increasing numbers of mammograms being performed in the United States will be accompanied inevitably by an increasing number of false positives. According to reliable estimates from a survey of radiology facilities, U.S. women in their forties experience close to one million false positive mammograms every year. To determine the impact of false positive mammograms and the broader psychological impact of mammography, we conducted literature searches of Medline, CancerLit, and PsycInfo. We identified nine studies examining the impact of false positive mammograms. Most found short-term increases in such psychological measures as anxiety, distress, and intrusive thoughts. One study found substantial effects on these measures three months after an abnormal mammogram. Another study found an 18-month impact on anxiety. Few studies have used behavioral outcomes, but one reported overpractice of breast self-exam among women who had received false positive results. Another found no reduction in adherence to mammography among women who have had an abnormal test. The more general mammography literature suggests that many women are anxious about mammography before the exam; women with lower levels of education, African Americans, and women with a family history of breast cancer may be more vulnerable to distress. Unfortunately, this literature suffers major limitations, such as small sample sizes, inconsistent and sometimes inappropriate measures, variations in the time frames for measurement, few studies with women aged 40-49, and a paucity of U.S. research. More research is needed to characterize at-risk women and to test interventions designed to reduce the negative impact of abnormal mammograms. Improved communication is also needed throughout the entire mammography process.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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