Women who get a ‘false positive’ at a breast screening are twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer later in life, researchers have found.
UK females aged 50 to 70 are invited for mammograms every three years. In one in five cases, these flag up potential problems and they are asked back for more tests, but then get an all-clear from a biopsy.
A study published yesterday in the British Journal of Cancer says this ‘false positive’ result raises the likelihood of a real diagnosis from 2 per cent to 4 per cent, and the increased risk lasts for 12 years.
A study in the British Journal of Cancer, the ‘false positive’ result increases the likelihood of a real diagnosis from 2 to 4 per cent over the next 12 years
However, Georgina Hill of Cancer Research UK said most women who receive a false positive do not go on to develop the potentially deadly disease
Experts think this may be because factors that make scans harder to read, such as obesity or dense breast tissue, also raise women’s cancer risk.
They want those who get a false positive to be scanned more frequently afterwards.
The authors, from Barcelona’s Health Services in Chronic Disease Research Network and the University of Copenhagen, wrote: ‘This information should be considered to design personalised screening strategies based on individual risk.’ They stress that the absolute risks are still tiny.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘These could be really important findings. Our risk of breast cancer can depend on a combination of our genes, family history, lifestyle, reproductive history and breast density. We are hopeful that tailoring screening to a woman’s individual risk could one day help detect more cases earlier.’
However, Cancer Research UK warned the data was too inconclusive to think about changing the screening programme. Georgina Hill from the charity said: ‘It may be that women are more likely to notice breast changes after a false positive result.
‘It’s important to remember that most women who are given a false positive result do not go on to develop breast cancer.’