An analysis of electronic medical records indicates that patients who previously had a false-positive breast or prostate cancer screening test are more likely to obtain future recommended cancer screenings. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings suggest that false-positives may be reminders to screen for cancer. Additional studies are needed to explore whether false-positives have a detrimental effect on quality of life or increase anxiety about cancer.
False-positive cancer screening test results–when results that are suggestive of cancer ultimately turn out to be wrong–are common. Over 10 years, about 50 to 60 in 100 women who get annual mammograms, 23 in 100 people who get regular stool tests, and 10 to 12 in 100 men who get regular prostate cancer testing will have false-positive results. Such results may affect individuals’ willingness to continue screening for cancer in the future, causing them to be either more diligent or more reluctant about getting screened.
To investigate, Glen Taksler, PhD, of the Cleveland Clinic, and his colleagues obtained 10 years of electronic medical records data to analyze the association between prior receipt of a false-positive cancer screening test result and future participation in routine
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