Some women worry about getting mammograms. One of their concerns is accuracy. Are mammograms always right? The answer is, for the most part, yes. Mammography is accurate. There are false negatives and false positive diagnoses however, so accuracy also falls upon the physician reading the scan.
Studies have shown that the more experience a center and/or a physician has in reading mammograms the more accurate the reading will be, which means fewer false positives, fewer follow-up tests, and less anxiety for the woman having the mammogram. In most cases, digital mammograms read by specialized radiologists are over 20 percent more accurate at detecting breast cancer than traditional mammograms read by generalists. Expert breast radiologists read thousands of mammograms a year and studies have shown that doctors who specialize in mammography are more accurate at interpreting the images when compared to physicians with less experience.
What’s a false negative?
A false negative diagnosis means that the mammogram appears normal even though the woman has breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that mammograms miss up to 20 percent of the breast cancers that are present at the time of screening and that false negatives occur more often in younger women than in older women because younger women have dense breast tissue, which can obscure or hide cancer. As women age, their breasts usually become more fatty and less dense, and breast cancers become easier to detect with screening mammograms.
What’s a false positive?
False positive mammograms occur when radiologists think there is cancer, when there isn’t. The NCI recommends that all abnormal mammograms be followed up with additional tests (like a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, and/or biopsy) to make sure that cancer is not present. As with false negatives, false positives are more common in younger women, and also with women who have had previous breast biopsies, women with a family history of breast cancer, and women who are taking estrogen.
Despite the potential for misreadings, physicians and researchers agree that mammography is the best screening tool available today for breast cancer. And if you’re ready get your mammogram this month, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, call (206) 288-7800. Check out our mobile mammography service while you’re at it. And make that Mammogram Promise if you haven’t already!