Women are unaware that mammography can detect non-progressive cancers

June 15, 2000

US women's attitudes to false positive mammography results and detection of ductal carcinoma in situ: cross sectional survey

Most women are unaware that detection of non-progressive cancer by screening mammography can lead to unnecessary invasive treatment, according to a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers surveyed 479 women in the United States, aged between 18 and 97 years, about their attitudes to and knowledge of false positive results and detection of non-progressive forms of cancer. Both are potential harms of mammography - often leading to women undergoing invasive treatment of unknown benefit including surgery, chemotherapy and mastectomy.

Overall, only 8% of women thought that mammography could harm a woman without breast cancer. Almost all (99%) knew that false positive mammograms occur, but accepted them as a consequence of screening and most would not take them into account when deciding about screening. Even women who had had a false positive result were highly tolerant. In contrast, only 6% of women were aware that screening can detect cancers that may never progress and many even doubted their existence. Once informed however, most women were concerned and wanted to take this into account when deciding about screening.

In light of these results, the authors conclude that education should focus less on false positives and more on the less familiar breast abnormalities, and the ambiguity associated with their detection and treatment.

Steven Woloshin, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Veterans Administration Medical Center, White River Junction, VT 05009, USA Email: steven.woloshin@dartmouth.edu


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