Objective: To examine the psychological consequences at a number of stages in the screening process for women attending a screening mammography programme.
Setting: A pilot mammographic screening programme in Melbourne, Australia.
Method: The psychological consequences questionnaire (PCQ; a reliable and valid measure of the psychological consequences of screening mammography) was used to measure the emotional, social, and physical functioning of women in a mammographic screening programme and a control community sample. A screening group (in whom no abnormality was detected at initial screen; n = 142) had four measurements: at screening clinic; before results were received; one week after all-clear results were received; and eight months after initial visit. The recall group (who were recalled for further investigation which showed the detected abnormality to be benign; n = 58) had measurements at the same points as the screening group and an additional measurement while waiting at the recall assessment clinic. A randomly selected community control group (n = 52) had measurements one week, two weeks, three weeks, and eight months after consenting to participate.
Results: Emotional, social, and physical functioning of women in the screening group did not change over time and at no point differed significantly from that of community controls. The profiles of emotional and physical dysfunction of women in the recall group differed significantly from those of the screening and control groups. The level of emotional and physical dysfunction in the recall group was highest while waiting at recall assessment clinic, and scores were still significantly higher than scores obtained at comparable times from screening and control groups one week after obtaining notification that there was no sign of cancer (emotional P < 0.001; physical P < 0.05). This difference had disappeared eight months after the screening visit, when the level of emotional and physical functioning was similar to that of the screening and control groups. Social dysfunction scores did not change significantly over time and were similar for all three groups.
Conclusions: Given that up to 10% of women are recalled for further investigations on first round screening, significant numbers of women may have psychological consequences. This speaks for the necessity for accurate reading of mammograms to minimise the false positive recall rate, and for counselling services to be available at recall assessment centres.