False-positive Mammograms Linked To Anxiety Prescriptions Spike

Women who receive a false-positive mammogram result are newly prescribed anxiety or depression medication at a rate 10 to 20 percent higher than patients who receive an immediate negative result, new research shows. A false-positive result is one where a suspicious finding on the screening mammogram leads to additional testing that does not end up leading to a breast cancer diagnosis.

The findings highlight the importance of swift and accurate follow-up testing to rule out a breast cancer diagnosis.

Within the group of patients who required more than one test to resolve the false-positive there was a 20 to 30 percent increase in those beginning to take anxiety or depression medications. The increase was particularly noticeable for women with commercial insurance who required multiple tests to rule out a breast cancer diagnosis.

Follow-up Care Lacking

Joel Segel, assistant professor of health policy and administration at Penn State, says:

“The results suggest that efforts to quickly resolve initially positive findings including same-day follow-up tests may help reduce anxiety and even prevent initiation of anxiety or depression medication.”

This study demonstrates that some women who experience a false-positive mammogram may need additional follow-up care to effectively handle the increased anxiety that may accompany the experience.

More importantly, from a practitioner standpoint, the study identifies sub-populations who may be most at risk of increased anxiety following a false-positive mammogram, Segel says.

Specifically, women whose false-positive result requires more than one follow-up test to resolve, women with commercial insurance who undergo a biopsy, women who wait longer than one week to receive a negative result, and women who are under age 50 may all be at higher risk of experiencing clinically significant anxiety or depression.

“Regular breast cancer screening is critical to early detection,” Segel says. “Patients should continue to work with their providers to ensure they are receiving guideline-appropriate screening and should follow up with their providers if they experience either anxiety or depression following screening or any type of care.”

Segel, Joel E. PhD; Balkrishnan, Rajesh PhD; Hirth, Richard A. PhD
The Effect of False-positive Mammograms on Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Initiation
Medical Care doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000760

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