The Joys of a False Positive
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released recommendations on breast cancer screenings November 16, stating that too many women were given unnecessary tests based on an initial "false positive" mammogram. The task force discouraged women ages 40 to 49 from regular screenings, saying they were not necessary until age 50. As cancer groups and women's health organizations have decried the new guidelines, the task force clarified its position last week, saying that women can have mammograms whenever they want, but that they are more effective for women ages 50-74.
A recent "false positive" myself, I cannot tell you how happy I am to be in such a group. My first mammogram was suspicious, and the second did not clarify findings, so a third was done. A radiologist reviewed the results with me right away, showing me the trouble area (near the armpit, where 50 percent of breast cancer is found). My physician said that while the new spots could simply be more calcification clusters, their location and strange appearance raised concerns. So a biopsy was done, and—praise God—no cancer was found.
While the task force's new protocols treat false positives as a negative thing—resulting in unnecessary anxiety and more money spent on unnecessary tests—I see false positives as the result of due diligence in preventive health care. But since my field of expertise is biblical studies, not health care, I won't get into the details of health care strategy. Instead, when ...1