Predicting the cumulative risk of false-positive mammograms.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


The cumulative risk of a false-positive mammogram can be substantial. We studied which variables affect the chance of a false-positive mammogram and estimated cumulative risks over nine sequential mammograms.


We used medical records of 2227 randomly selected women who were 40-69 years of age on July 1, 1983, and had at least one screening mammogram. We used a Bayesian discrete hazard regression model developed for this study to test the effect of patient and radiologic variables on a first false-positive screening and to calculate cumulative risks of a false-positive mammogram.


Of 9747 screening mammograms, 6. 5% were false-positive; 23.8% of women experienced at least one false-positive result. After nine mammograms, the risk of a false-positive mammogram was 43.1% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 36.6%-53.6%). Risk ratios decreased with increasing age and increased with number of breast biopsies, family history of breast cancer, estrogen use, time between screenings, no comparison with previous mammograms, and the radiologist's tendency to call mammograms abnormal. For a woman with highest-risk variables, the estimated risk for a false-positive mammogram at the first and by the ninth mammogram was 98.1% (95% CI = 69.3%-100%) and 100% (95% CI = 99.9%-100%), respectively. A woman with lowest-risk variables had estimated risks of 0.7% (95% CI = 0.2%-1.9%) and 4.6% (95% CI = 1. 1%-12.5%), respectively.


The cumulative risk of a false-positive mammogram over time varies substantially, depending on a woman's own risk profile and on several factors related to radiologic screening. By the ninth mammogram, the risk can be as low as 5% for women with low-risk variables and as high as 100% for women with multiple high-risk factors.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Christiansen, CL; Wang, F; Barton, MB; Kreuter, W; Elmore, JG; Gelfand, AE; Fletcher, SW

Published Date

  • October 2000

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 92 / 20

Start / End Page

  • 1657 - 1666

PubMed ID

  • 11036111

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1460-2105

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0027-8874

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/jnci/92.20.1657


  • eng