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False-positive cancer screens and health-related quality of life.
Pubmed ID
15525861 (View this publication on the PubMed website)
Cancer Nurs. 2004; Volume 27 (Issue 5): Pages 347-52

McGovern PM, Gross CR, Krueger RA, Engelhard DA, Cordes JE, Church TR


By design, screening tests are imperfect-unresponsive to some cancers (false negatives) while occasionally raising suspicion of cancer where none exists (false positives). This pilot study describes patients' responses to having a false-positive screening test for cancer, and identifies screening effects on health-related quality of life (HRQoL). The pilot findings suggest issues important for incorporation in future evaluations of the impact of screening for prostate, lung, colon, or ovarian (PLCO) cancers. Seven focus groups were conducted to identify the nature and meaning of all phases of PLCO screening. Minnesota participants in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial who had completed screening, with at least 1 false-positive screen, participated (N = 47). Participants' reactions to abnormal screens and diagnostic work-ups were primarily emotional (eg, anxiety and distress), not physical, and ultimately positive for the majority. Health distress and fear of cancer and death were the major negative aspects of HRQoL identified. These concepts are not typically included in generic HRQoL questionnaires like the SF-36, but are highly relevant to PLCO screening. Clinicians were regarded as underestimating the discomfort of follow-up diagnostic testing. However, relief and assurance appeared to eventually outweigh the negative emotions for most participants. Implications for oncology nurses include the need to consider the emotional consequences of screening in association with screen reliability and validity.

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