You get your mammogram. You go home. You get a call asking you to schedule a follow up mammogram. What?! You are a bit worried, race to Dr. Google for some advice. Dr. Google does a great job of providing you with every worst-case scenario. Your anxiety is up. And then it turns out it was dense breast tissue, a small calcification, or a benign biopsy–not breast cancer.
Most of the time, when the radiologist sees “something” on your mammogram and they call you back in to have a closer look, or take a biopsy, it will turn out to be a “false positive.” In fact, about 80% of breast biopsies conducted are benign. And if you and your best friend got mammogram together every year for 10 years in a row, the chances are one of you will have a false positive mammogram at least one time!1 So, it’s fairly common to have a false positive mammogram.
What does this actually mean to your breast cancer risk? Well, having a false positive mammogram does slightly increase your risk of developing your risk of breast cancer.2 At least for ten years following that false-positive event.
The image from your false-positive mammogram showed something that made your doctor think twice–this happens a lot in women who have dense breast tissue because the dense tissue often looks mistakingly similar to the way a small tumor might appear in the image. A tumor can more easily hide in dense breast tissue. This is one of the reasons that having dense breast tissue can increase your risk of breast cancer.3
After a false positive event, we don’t want you to be anxious bout your risk of developing breast cancer. We want you to be aware of your risks, and feel confident that you are taking the steps you need in order to reduce your risk. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk–there are loads of other risk factors that influence your risk of developing breast cancer. And there is no magic combination. Don’t be shy about asking your healthcare provider a question–there aren’t any stupid questions when it comes to your health. And finally, remember to listen to your body–you are your own best advocate.
- Hubbard RA, Kerlikowske K, Flowers CI, Yankaskas BC, Zhu W, Miglioretti DL. Cumulative probability of false-positive recall or biopsy recommendation after 10 years of screening mammography: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(8):481-92.
- Henderson LM, Hubbard, RA Sprague BL, Zhu W, Kerlikowske K. Increased Risk of Developing Breast Cancer after a False-Positive Screening Mammogram. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24(12) 1882-1889,.
- Holland K, van Gils CH, Mann RM, Karssemeijer N. Quantification of masking risk in screening mammography with volumetric breast density maps. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017;162(3):541-548.