The toll of cancer -- even when you don't have it
Mammograms are so unreliable that any woman screened regularly is almost bound to experience a false positive or two over the years.
But there's nothing "false" about it when a woman first hears the news. As far as she's concerned, any suspicious mass is cancer until proven otherwise -- which is why false positives often give women the same stress and anxiety as an actual cancer diagnosis.
And that stress and anxiety doesn't vanish in a sigh of relief when a second test turns up nothing. New research shows that women who experience false positives often battle the same emotional and psychological issues as actual cancer patients for months or even years afterward.
Researchers gave regular psychological tests to 864 women with normal mammogram results and 446 women who had suspicious results -- including 174 who actually did have the disease.
Overall, the women with normal mammograms had the best results, while the women with actual cancer had the worst stress and anxiety.
The women with false positives were somewhere in between overall. But in two key areas -- inner calm and existential values -- their scores were the same as those of the actual cancer patients.
This wasn't just a brief blip on the stress-o-meter. It took three years for the women with false positives to return to normalcy, according to the study in the Annals of Family Medicine.
That's three years of stress and anxiety over a disease they didn't even have.
This is hardly the only problem with mammograms, of course. It's not even the worst of the problems with mammograms -- because these screenings use radiation, increasing your risk of the very cancer the mammogram is supposed to detect.
There are other ways to screen for breast cancer, including less frequent mammograms and imaging techniques that use no radiation, such as MRIs and ultrasound. Talk to a holistic physician about the best options for you.