The sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive value of screening mammography and symptomatic status Academic Article uri icon


  • To examine whether the accuracy of screening mammography varies according to symptomatic status reported at the time of screening.Victoria, Australia, where free biennial screening is provided to women aged 40 and older.We examined the sensitivity, specificity, and the positive predictive value of screening mammography by symptom status in 106,826 women from Victoria, who attended for first round mammography in 1994 and who did not have a personal history of breast cancer. Symptomatic status was divided into the following categories: asymptomatic; significant symptoms, if the woman reported a breast lump and/or blood stained or watery nipple discharge; and other symptoms, if reported. Unconditional logistic regression modelling was used to adjust for age, use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and family history.Sensitivity was lower for women with other symptoms (60.0%) than asymptomatic women (75.6%), or women with significant symptoms (80.8%). Specificity was lower for women with significant symptoms (73.7%) than asymptomatic women (94.9%), or women with other symptoms (95.4%). Among women who had invasive cancer detected during screening interval, women with other symptoms were more likely to get a false negative result (odds ratio 1.79, 95% confidence interval 1.03 to 3.04) than asymptomatic women, after adjusting for age, use of HRT, and family history.The lower sensitivity in women with other symptoms requires further investigation. Possible explanations include increased breast density and poor image quality. The high sensitivity in women with significant symptoms is probably due to more cautious radiological practice, which has also resulted in low specificity in this group.


publication date

  • June 2000