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UC Davis Study Finds Half Of Women Get False Positives Over 10 Years Of Annual Breast Cancer Screening

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) -- A critical screening tool for breast cancer can often lead to false-positive results.

Those are the findings from a new study out of UC Davis that shows half of all women will get a false positive over 10 years of annual screening.

"Going in for a mammogram can be stressful because you know you're always worried that maybe they will find something," said Dr. Diana Miglioretti, division chief of biostatistics with UC Davis Health.

The study found younger women and those with denser breast tissue were more likely to get those false-positive results. But before any anxiety starts to set in, researchers say the main takeaway here is not to panic.

"After 10 years of annual screening with 3D, about half of women will experience a false-positive recall," Dr. Miglioretti said. "And that means they'll be recalled for additional imaging, and it turns out they do not have cancer."

Dr. Miglioretti is the senior author of the study that looked at 3 million screening mammograms for women between 40 and 79. The hope, she says, was to show that new generation 3D mammography reduced false-positive rates when compared to the older 2D imagery.

"I was surprised and a little disappointed," Dr. Miglioretti said.

What she's not disappointed in, though, is the overall message the findings send to women that false positives are very common.

"If you get that call from your doctor saying they saw something on your mammogram [and] they want to do additional imaging to work it up, you should not be worried about that because chances are, you do not have cancer and it's just part of the screening process," Dr. Miglioretti said.

Dr. Miglioretti says there is one way to potentially reduce your risk.

"Research has shown that most women can be safely screened every other year," she said. "So if women want to reduce their risk, they may want to consider screening every other year."

Another way to reduce your risk is if you change doctors or facilities, make sure you transfer over any old images with you so doctors can compare them and better spot any changes.

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