Another reason to avoid excessive mammography screening

Researchers have now discovered what regular people already know: waiting for the results of a biopsy can be extremely stressful. The radiologists are holding their annual conclave (RSNA) in Chicago now, and heard a presentation on the stress topic. From MedPage Today:

Waiting for a diagnosis — and for the procedure that will provide that diagnosis — can be more nerve-wracking than prepping for a procedure to treat malignant disease, researchers found.

Women awaiting a breast biopsy reported more stress and anxiety than those waiting to be wheeled in for an invasive procedure to treat liver cancer, Elvira Lang, MD, of Harvard, and colleagues reported at the Radiological Society of North America meeting here.

“Uncertainty is a greater stressor than awaiting risky treatment,” Lang said during a press briefing. “The invasiveness of a procedure has less influence on stress.”

Interestingly, and not surprisingly, the authors and radiologists focus on how to reduce the stress from these procedures.

“It’s extremely important for a patient’s experience, and their ability to return to that institution” for follow-up tests if need be, [radiologist and co-author Dr. Bob Kerlan] said, adding that this area of research will be increasingly important.

Radiologists will listen because they definitely want their customers to come back! But these findings should also be viewed within the context of deciding which tests to recommend in the first place. In particular, the research is consistent with taking a more cautious approach to screening and at least recognizing the harms from false positives that result when so many are screened so frequently.

See my earlier post, More on the overuse of mammography in elderly women, for a broader discussion of the topic.

November 30, 2010

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