Biennial mammograms reduce false positive rate

A number of media sources discussed a new study suggesting that annual mammogram screening may lead to a high false positive rate.

The AP reports that the study  in the Annals of Internal Medicine “finds that more than 60 percent of women who get tested each year for a decade will be called back at least once for extra tests that turn out not to show breast cancer.”

However, “screening every other year, as a government task force recommends, drops this false alarm rate to 42 percent without a big risk of cancer being found at a late stage.”

The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reports, “In 10 years of annual screening, 61% of … women will be called back for another mammogram screening, because the first reading was inconclusive. About one in 12 women will be referred for a ‘false positive’ biopsy.”

If the mammogram is every two years, “42% of women were called back.”

In addition, “having prior year mammograms available” reduced the false positive rate, which means “women should try to have their mammograms taken at the same place each time or, if they switch sites, order their previous mammograms sent to the new office.”

The Washington Post “The Checkup” blog reports that the National Cancer Institute-funded study “analyzed data for 169,456 women who had their first screening mammogram in their 40s or 50s and 4,492 women who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.”

The bottom line? It looks like having a mammogram every two years, as recommended by the US Preventive Services Taskforce is wise.

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