Now, a new study recommends radiologists examine the initial mammogram immediately so any follow-up tests can be performed in the same office visit. Between 5 percent and 11 percent of all screening mammograms are abnormal, meaning a woman must come back for a follow-up mammogram. Many abnormal mammograms turn out to be false-positives, meaning they do not result in a breast cancer diagnosis within one year. Even when follow-ups and evaluations rule out breast cancer, women frequently experience high levels of stress and anxiety.
Women who took part in the study received one of two interventions, both interventions or no intervention. One intervention consisted of educational materials -- including a video and a pamphlet -- that explained their breast cancer risk, the reasons for abnormal mammograms, and coping strategies for dealing with the results. For the second intervention, a radiologist examined the mammogram so that any follow-up tests needed, except for biopsies, could be performed during the same visit.
Three weeks after their false-positive mammograms, women who had to wait several days to receive their results reported more stress and anxiety than the women who had received immediate results. Also, more than half of the women who had the immediate follow-ups reported their mammograms had been normal. Researchers say this suggests that the immediate completion of follow-up may have minimized the effect of a false-positive reading to the extent that they never perceived their mammogram as being abnormal.
Thus researchers conclude that rapid evaluation of mammogram results may be a more effective approach to decreasing anxieties than trying to change emotional reactions to abnormal mammograms.