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Breast Cancer Screening Risks

KEY POINTS

Screening tests have risks.

The risks of breast cancer screening tests include the following:

Screening tests have risks.

Decisions about screening tests can be difficult. Not all screening tests are helpful and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your doctor. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.

The risks of breast cancer screening tests include the following:

           1. The size of the tumor.
           2. The rate of tumor growth.
           3. The level of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, in the woman’s body.
           4. The skill of the radiologist.
           5. False-positive test results can occur.

Screening test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result (one that shows there is cancer when there really isn’t) is usually followed by more tests (such as biopsy), which also have risks.

When a breast biopsy result is abnormal, getting a second opinion from a different pathologist may improve the accuracy of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Most abnormal test results turn out not to be cancer. False-positive results are more common in the following:

Anxiety from additional testing may result from false positive results.

False-positive results from screening mammograms are usually followed by more testing that can lead to anxiety. In one study, women who had a false-positive screening mammogram followed by more testing reported feeling anxiety 3 months later, even though cancer was not diagnosed. However, several studies show that women who feel anxiety after false-positive test results are more likely to schedule regular breast screening exams in the future.

Mammograms expose the breast to radiation.

Being exposed to radiation is a risk factor for breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer from radiation exposure is higher in women who received radiation before age 30 and at high doses. For women older than 40 years, the benefits of an annual screening mammogram may be greater than the risks from radiation exposure.

There may be pain or discomfort during a mammogram.

During a mammogram, the breast is placed between 2 plates that are pressed together. Pressing the breast helps to get a better x-ray of the breast. Some women have pain or discomfort during a mammogram.

The risks and benefits of screening for breast cancer may be different in different age groups.

The benefits of breast cancer screening may vary among age groups:

There is no information on the benefits or risks of breast cancer screening in men.

No matter how old you are, if you have risk factors for breast cancer you should ask for medical advice about when to begin having breast cancer screening tests and how often to have them.

Talk to your doctor about your risk of breast cancer and your need for screening tests.

Talk to your doctor or other health care provider about your risk of breast cancer, whether a screening test is right for you, and the benefits and harms of the screening test. You should take part in the decision about whether you want to have a screening test, based on what is best for you. (See the PDQ summary on Cancer Screening Overview for more information.)


Reference: National Cancer Institute Last Updated: January 22, 2016