Doctors recommend annual mammograms despite false positives

According to a new study by the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of women who get an annual mammogram screening will get false positive results once every 10 years.

The study also found that as many as 9 percent of those women who receive false positives will have an unnecessary biopsy.

It’s a trend that has some questioning the mammograms, but for many doctors, the trend of false positive results isn’t something that would make them not recommend getting the screenings.

Having a mammogram is still something doctors urge patients to do.

Thibodaux Regional Health System general surgeon, Dr. Barry Landry, said although a false positive result may create anxiety; it is a small trade for the chance of actually catching cancer early.

“I see a lot of women under 40-years-old with breast cancer, and I’m sure they would rather deal with a little bit of anxiety than have a cancer that is caught at a later stage,” he said.

A mammogram is a quick procedure that uses a noninvasive X-ray targeted to each breast. The X-ray produces pictures that doctors can use to identify and treat any abnormal areas.
Strict guidelines ensure that mammography equipment is safe and uses the lowest dose of radiation possible. Many people are concerned about the exposure to x-rays, but the level of radiation used in modern mammography does not significantly increase the risk for breast cancer.
Mammograms Not as Effective for Some

Dense breasts make it difficult to detect breast cancer from a mammogram. Dense breast tissue, as well as cancer can look white or light gray, making it difficult to distinguish between cancer and breast tissue. As a result, mammograms may not be as effective in women with dense breasts.

However, newer technologies, such as digital mammography may be better than traditional film mammography for women with dense breasts.

Additionally, for women who are at increased risk for breast cancer, Thibodaux Regional’s advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) breast imaging can detect breast lesions that may have been undetectable by mammogram or ultrasound. The test should be ordered only after a qualified physician has evaluated the patient's risk of breast cancer.

“MRIs are shown to be better for women with dense breasts and those younger than age 40,” said Landry. “Mammograms are most effective when the breast has more fat than breast tissue.”

Mammograms help detect cancer early, which in many cases is the best way to beat it. Dr. Landry recommends the screenings to all women over 40, even if they have no symptoms or family history of breast cancer.

Most women who are at risk are over 40 should qualify through their insurance to be screened for breast cancer. As of 2011, under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and all new health insurance plans are required to fully cover screening mammograms without any out-of-pocket expense for patients.

About Thibodaux Regional Health System
Thibodaux Regional Health System, a 185-bed acute care facility, provides inpatient and outpatient care for the people of Lafourche and seven surrounding parishes. Highly specialized services offered include Heart Surgery, Medical and Radiation Oncology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Sports Medicine, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, General, Laparoscopic, and Bariatric Surgery, Pulmonology, Rheumatology, Women’s Services, Sleep Disorders, Behavioral Health, Home Health, and Inpatient and Outpatient Physical Rehabilitation Services. Nationally recognized for quality care and service, Thibodaux Regional has been named a Distinguished Hospital by J.D. Power and Associates and has been honored with the Press Ganey Summit Award for high levels of patient satisfaction. For more information, visit