Screening mammograms by community radiologists: Variability in false-positive rates

Joann G. Elmore, Diana L Miglioretti, Lisa M. Reisch, Mary B. Barton, William Kreuter, Cindy L. Christiansen, Suzanne W. Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Background: Previous studies have shown that the agreement among radiologists interpreting a test set of mammograms is relatively low. However, data available from real-world settings are sparse. We studied mammographic examination interpretations by radiologists practicing in a community setting and evaluated whether the variability in false-positive rates could be explained by patient, radiologist, and/or testing characteristics. Methods: We used medical records on randomly selected women aged 40-69 years who had had at least one screening mammographic examination in a community setting between January 1, 1985, and June 30, 1993. Twenty-four radiologists interpreted 8734 screening mammograms from 2169 women. Hierarchical logistic regression models were used to examine the impact of patient, radiologist, and testing characteristics. All statistical tests were two-sided. Results: Radiologists varied widely in mammographic examination interpretations, with a mass noted in 0%-7.9%, calcification in 0%-21.3%, and fibrocystic changes in 1.6%-27.8% of mammograms read. False-positive rates ranged from 2.6% to 15.9%. Younger and more recently trained radiologists had higher false-positive rates. Adjustment for patient, radiologist, and testing characteristics narrowed the range of false-positive rates to 3.5%-7.9%. If a woman went to two randomly selected radiologists, her odds, after adjustment, of having a false-positive reading would be 1.5 times greater for the radiologist at higher risk of a false-positive reading, compared with the radiologist at lowest risk (95% highest posterior density interval [similar to a confidence interval] = 1.17 to 2.08). Conclusion: Community radiologists varied widely in their false-positive rates in screening mammograms; this variability range was reduced by half, but not eliminated, after statistical adjustment for patient, radiologist, and testing characteristics. These characteristics need to be considered when evaluating false-positive rates in community mammographic examination screening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1373-1380
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 18 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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