Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 100, Issue 2, pp 191-200

First online:

Psychological Distress in U.S. Women Who Have Experienced False-Positive Mammograms

  • Ismail JatoiAffiliated withDepartment of Surgery, National Naval Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University Email author 
  • , Kangmin ZhuAffiliated withUnited States Military Cancer Institute
  • , Mona ShahAffiliated withUnited States Military Cancer Institute
  • , William LawrenceAffiliated withAgency for Healthcare Research and Quality

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In the United States, approximately 10.7% of all screening mammograms lead to a false-positive result, but the overall impact of false-positives on psychological well-being is poorly understood.

Materials and methods

Data were analyzed from the 2000 U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the most recent national survey that included a cancer control module. Study subjects were 9,755 women who ever had a mammogram, of which 1,450 had experienced a false-positive result. Psychological distress was assessed using the validated K6 questionnaire and logistic regression was used to discern any association with previous false-positive mammograms.


In a multivariate analysis, women who had indicated a previous false-positive mammogram were more likely to report feeling sad (OR = 1.18, 95% CI, 1.03–1.35), restless (OR = 1.23, 95% CI, 1.08–1.40), worthless (OR = 1.27, 95% CI, 1.04–1.54), and finding that everything was an effort (OR = 1.27, 95% CI, 1.10–1.47). These women were also more likely to have seen a mental health professional in the 12 months preceding the survey (OR = 1.28, 95% CI, 1.03–1.58) and had a higher composite score on all items of the K6 scale (P < 0.0001), a reflection of increased psychological distress. Analyses by age and race revealed that, among women who had experienced false-positives, younger women were more likely to feel that everything was an effort, and blacks were more likely to feel restless.


In a random sampling of the U.S. population, women who had previously experienced false-positive mammograms were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Key words

Mammography False-positives Psychological distress