Perspectives on mammography after receipt of secondary screening owing to a false positive

Womens Health Issues. Mar-Apr 2015;25(2):128-33. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2014.11.003. Epub 2015 Jan 31.


Background: The utility of mammography screening as an efficacious tool for early detection is being contested owing to the risk of potential harms, including psychological distress and exposure to unnecessary procedures associated with false-positive (FPs) results and overdiagnosis. However, there is little research regarding women's experiences, values, or preferences for participating in mammography programs. Our aim was to explore women's actual experiences of a FP mammography screen and their perceptions of the value, risks and benefits given their recent experience.

Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews with 40 women who experienced a recent FP mammogram. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. A directed content analysis was used to identify and explore primary themes. Knowledge of breast cancer risk was also assessed.

Findings: Receiving a FP mammography screen generated significant worry among 60% (n=24) of women. Yet 70% maintained that mammography screening was necessary despite the worry incurred. Women also described the experience as stimulating greater interest in additional cancer prevention activities (32.5%; n=13) and one-third discussed needing more information about the risks and benefits of mammography screening. Less than one-quarter of women (22.5%; n=9) correctly identified a women's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer; 20% (n=8) overestimated, and 57.5% (n=23) underestimated this risk.

Conclusion: Women reported needing more information about the risks and benefits of mammography screening, but also considered FP results an acceptable risk. Further, our results suggest that breast cancer screening programs may provide a unique opportunity to deliver additional breast cancer prevention interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Early Detection of Cancer / psychology*
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mammography / psychology*
  • Mammography / statistics & numerical data
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk
  • Surveys and Questionnaires