Background: This is the first review to identify, appraise and synthesise women’s experiences of having a false positive breast screening test result.
Methods: We systematically searched eight databases for qualitative research reporting women’s experiences of receiving a false positive screening test result. Two reviewers independently screened articles. Eight papers reporting seven studies were included. Study quality was appraised. Data were thematically synthesised.
Results: Women passively attended screening in order to prove their perceived good health. Consequently, being recalled was unexpected, shocking and disempowering: women felt without options. They endured great uncertainty and stress and sought clarity about their health (e.g. by scrutinising the wording of recall letters and conversations with healthcare professionals). Their result was accompanied by relief and welcome feelings of certainty about their health, but some received unclear explanations of their result, contributing to lasting breast cancer-related worry and an ongoing need for further reassurance.
Conclusion: The organisation of breast screening programmes may constrain choice for women: they became passive recipients. The way healthcare professionals verbally communicate results to women may contribute to lasting breast cancer-related worry. Women need more reassurance, emotional support and answers to their questions before and during screening assessment, and after receiving their result.