PURPOSE: Cancer screening programs have the potential of intended beneficial effects, but they also inevitably have unintended harmful effects. In the case of screening mammography, the most frequent harm is a false-positive result. Prior efforts to measure their psychosocial consequences have been limited by short-term follow-up, the use of generic survey instruments, and the lack of a relevant benchmark-women with breast cancer.
METHODS: In this cohort study with a 3-year follow-up, we recruited 454 women with abnormal findings in screening mammography over a 1-year period. For each woman with an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram (false and true positives), we recruited another 2 women with normal screening results who were screened the same day at the same clinic. These participants were asked to complete the Consequences of Screening in Breast Cancer-a validated questionnaire encompassing 12 psychosocial outcomes-at baseline, 1, 6, 18, and 36 months.
RESULTS: Six months after final diagnosis, women with false-positive findings reported changes in existential values and inner calmness as great as those reported by women with a diagnosis of breast cancer (Î” = 1.15; P = .015; and Î” = 0.13; P = .423, respectively). Three years after being declared free of cancer, women with false-positive results consistently reported greater negative psychosocial consequences compared with women who had normal findings in all 12 psychosocial outcomes (Î”>0 for 12 of 12 outcomes; P
CONCLUSION: False-positive findings on screening mammography causes long-term psychosocial harm: 3 years after a false-positive finding, women experience psychosocial consequences that range between those experienced by women with a normal mammogram and those with a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Republished with permission from: Green Med Info