Invited Commentary
June 2014

Are the Harms of False-Positive Screening Test Results Minimal or Meaningful?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Center for Health Information and Communication, Health Services Research & Development, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • 2Regenstrief Institute, Inc, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • 3Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis

Copyright 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(6):961-963. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.160

That most screening test results will be normal or negative is commonplace, but the reality that abnormal results are frequently false-positive is not always well appreciated, nor is it fully conveyed to patients. How does a patient feel after a false-positive test result? Tosteson and colleagues1 concluded from their longitudinal study that “false-positive mammograms are associated with a measurable, small, and transient effect on personal anxiety.” However, a closer look at all the outcomes assessed in this well-done study reveal some adverse consequences that, although not serious, may nonetheless be meaningful.

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