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Breast Cancer Screening

Learn about the steps that people at high risk for cancer can take to manage their risk and protect their health.

Screening terminology

Scientists use the following criteria when considering the utility of a screening test:

  • Sensitivity (true positives):
    the probability of a positive test among those who have the disease. If two women in a group of 100 have cancer, for example, a highly sensitive test would find positive results in both women.
  • Specificity (true negatives):
    the probability of a negative test among those who do not have the disease . If only two women in the group of 100 have cancer, but 10 falsely test positive, the test is not very specific.

The ideal test is both sensitive and specific. If someone tests positive, they likely have the disease. If they test negative they likely don’t. It is difficult to develop a test that is both highly sensitive and highly specific. Usually one quality is compromised at the expense of another.

Updated 11/18/16

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