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Topic: Percentage of False-Positive Mammograms

Forum: Not Diagnosed but Worried —

Meet others worried about developing breast cancer for the first time. PLEASE DO NOT POST PICTURES OF YOUR SYMPTOMS. Comparing notes, symptoms, or characteristics is not helpful here, as only medical professionals can accurately evaluate and assess your individual situation.

Posted on: Sep 12, 2010 12:47AM

MizPatti wrote:

Returned home today and checked the mail . . . now I'm freaking!  Three days ago I went to a well-known imaging center in this area.  All they do is computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, nuclear imaging and Digital mammograms.  The center just installed a new mammogram machine and the managing radiologist needed "time" on the new equipment to be considered experienced or certified.  A mutual friend, who is a radiology technician, called and said the radiologist needed ginny pigs. I said sure, because 1.) I'm 45, 2.) had a full hysterectomy nine years ago, 3.) take 1mg. of estrogen daily, 4.) much to my doctor's disgust have never had a mammogram (he threatened on my last visit to withhold renewing my estrogen prescription until I had a mammogram stating he needed a base density level, but gave in since I was recently laid-off at the time and did not have insurance.

I always check out a doctor (radiologist) who I'm going to see. In this case, the radiologist graduated from an accredited medical school twenty years ago, passed her licensing examination, and completed a four year residency and is board-certified by the American Board of Radiology. 

My mammogram atmosphere was very relaxed and I had no problems allowing my friend/radiology technician to be in the room while the procedure took place.  A total "girl" environment.  Four images of each breast was taken (strait on view, turned slightly to the right, turn slightly to the left and the last image seemed as if my breast were sitting at a ninety degree angle from by body.  This was considered a screening mammogram, not a diagnostic mammogram, but I had a licensed radiologist conducting the test.   Between each image, we all looked at the digital images as they came up on the digital screen and the radiologist answered my questions when asked.  No questionable thickness, possible cyst or lumps. My breast passed with flying colors. 

Today I received a letter from the imaging center stating:

"Your recent mammogram examination showed a finding that requires additional imaging studies for a complete evaluation.  Most such findings are benign." 

What the heck!?  I want to know what just "showed" up over three days?  Who else viewed my images  and deemed further test should be done? I understand that most people reading my post are not doctors and will state I need further imaging, but are false-positives common. I read on this site that false positives are more common in younger women (is 45 considered a younger woman), women who have had previous breast biopsies (no), women with a family history of breast cancer (no member on either side of my parent's family), and women who are taking estrogen (yes, for nine years). 

Geez, call me, don't make me sweat it out over the weekend and don't send a letter that states "most such findings are benign". Benign usually is followed by the word tumor.   While many will consider it silly, since I read the letter 4 hours ago, my heart feels as if it's going to beat right out of my body.  I'm shaking as I type this.   So, are false-positives common?  THANK YOU!   

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Sep 12, 2010 01:35AM Shappy wrote:

So, are false-positives common? 

In a nutshell I think "yes."  At our facility I think there is about a 10% call back rate.  Screening tests have to cast a wide net.  Out of that 10% I think only about 10% really have a positive finding.  In my facility I think that more than one radiologist reads the films, some may "overread" then you need to come back for more imaging studies.  I've had two call-backs and 1 biopsy, results were negative.  However, I am so freaked out about the experience that when I walk by the mammography center ( I work at the hospital) I get a panic attack and am long overdue for my yearly mammogram.

Welcome to American medicine.  CYA medicine.  I didn't have my first mammogram until I was 47 years old and never thought twice about it until I've read this site.  I seriously wish I lived in the pre-mammogram era because I find that these false-positive findings have done a serious number on my head.  My gut tells me you'll be fine.

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Sep 12, 2010 03:00PM Beesie wrote:

About 95% of callbacks after mammograms turn out to be false positives. 

Take a look at the following chart.  It shows that approx. 10% of women get callbacks after a mammogram.  Let's say that this represents 100 women.  Of the 100 women, 75 will be cleared once they have the diagnostic workup, which usually consists of a diagnostic mammogram (a magnified view of the area of concern) and an ultrasound.  The remaining 25 women will be sent for a biopsy.  Of these women, 80% (20 of the women) will have benign results while 20% (5 of the women) will be diagnosed with breast cancer (most, early stage).  So in total 95 (75 + 20) of the 100 women who got a phone call or that same scary letter as you will turn out to have had a false positive mammogram.


Dx 9/15/05, DCIS-MI, 6cm+ Gr3 DCIS w/IDC microinvasion, Stage IA, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR- “No power so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Edmund Burke

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