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Breast Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Patient Information [NCI] - Risks of Breast Cancer Screening

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The skill of the radiologist also can affect the chance of a false-positive result.

Anxiety from additional testing may result from false positive results.

False-positive results from screening mammograms are usually followed by more testing that can lead to anxiety. In one study, women who had a false-positive screening mammogram followed by more testing reported feeling anxiety 3 months later, even though cancer was not diagnosed. However, several studies show that women who feel anxiety after false-positive test results are more likely to schedule regular breast screening exams in the future.

Mammograms expose the breast to radiation.

Being exposed to radiation is a risk factor for breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer from radiation exposure, such as screening mammograms or x-rays, is greater with higher doses of radiation and in younger women. For women older than 40 years, the benefits of an annual screening mammogram may be greater than the risks from radiation exposure.

There may be pain or discomfort during a mammogram.

During a mammogram, the breast is placed between 2 plates that are pressed together. Pressing the breast helps to get a better x-ray of the breast. Some women have pain or discomfort during a mammogram.

The risks and benefits of screening for breast cancer may be different in different age groups.

The benefits of breast cancer screening may vary among age groups:

  • In women who are expected to live 5 years or fewer, finding and treating early stage breast cancer may reduce their quality of life without helping them live longer.
  • As with other women, in women older than 65 years, the results of a screening test may lead to more diagnostic tests and anxiety while waiting for the test results. Also, the breast cancers found are usually not life-threatening.
  • In women in their 80s and 90s, decisions about screening should depend on the patient's health and the possible effect on quality of life.
  • It has not been shown that women with an average risk of developing breast cancer benefit from starting screening mammography before age 40.
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