When a Mammogram Result Is Wrong

No test is perfect, but especially tests we use in many woman and repeat often we want to know that it's pretty accurate or the total cost of chasing wrong results can be enormously high. Mammograms are one test that seems to be endlessly debated as to how it is done and the accuracy of what we are finding. A new report discussed on the AMA site states that we spend over 4 billion dollars to chase false positive tests. In the case of mammograms a false positive test means the mammogram states a suspicion of cancer, but there is actually no cancer. So it is more accurately termed, "positive of an abnormality, that may be cancer or may not be." As opposed to the situation in which there was an incorrect interpretation of that spot.  Each and every medical test, including mammograms, has many facets to it. The technology to perform the test, the decision to have the test, the results themselves, the interpretation, and when to have repeat testing. All this must be taken within the context of the woman having the test and the gyno helping to navigate this complex set of decisions. And then there is the fact that some tests don't really change therapy, so if not is it really worth having the test. And medical thinking as to the results may have changed, and thus the interpretation of the test can change! In the case of the new report, CBS news is saying maybe the cost benefit ratio doesn't go towards screening mammograms, but away from them, and yet NBC is saying new treatments make breast cancer even more treatable so we should think about continuing to diagnose each and every breast cancer.  And be sure you differentiate screening mammograms from diagnostic mammograms. In one case you have no symptoms but the gyno is checking for lesions that cannot be felt. In the case of diagnostic mammograms you are being evaluated for a symptom or sign you do have. Diagnostic mammograms are critically important as the step after a screening mammogram to help interpret what the screening test or physical examination found, and their interpretation is closely linked with the symptoms you and your gynecologist convey at the time of the test. Test results, as you see, have many intricacies and even more implications in their interpretation.


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