How to handle your mammogram results
No one wants to hear that a mammogram result is abnormal. Is something wrong? Did they find cancer? Am I going to be okay? It’s quite common for women, especially those under 50, to be called back for a second mammogram after initially receiving a false positive result. The U.S. Preventive Task Force data shows that for every 10,000 women screened in their forties, 1,212 will be told they have a false positive mammogram, resulting in a follow-up screening. “The majority of the time these call-backs are often good news—you’re not going to end up having a cancer diagnosis,” says Sandhya Pruthi, MD and consultant at the Breast Diagnostic Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “Often the extra views are just to help clarify something or give more information to radiologist to suggest if an additional test like an ultrasound or magnification views are needed to get more information before they are concerned about a cancer diagnosis.” If you are asked to come back in for additional screening, it’s important you communicate with your primary doctor and radiologists throughout screening and diagnosis and receive a referral to the appropriate breast specialist if necessary. These are some smart questions it pays to ask your health-care providers:
Did you compare my current mammogram to my previous ones, and how far back did you compare them to?
Is the nodule a liquid cyst or a solid lump?
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What are microcalcifications?
Is my breast tissue dense?
Some women—particularly younger women who are still menstruating—have denser breast tissue, while other women (most often those who are postmenopausal) have fattier breast tissue. As women reach menopause and no longer produce estrogen from their ovaries, denser breast tissue is replaced by fattier tissue, which makes mammograms in older women easier to read. Denser breast tissue is made up of the milk glands, milk ducts, and fibrous tissue and appears as white areas on a mammogram, says Dr. Jokich. However, most cancers also appear as white areas on a mammogram, sometimes making it difficult for radiologists to determine what is dense breast tissue and what is cancer. “If you put a white lump or a white nodule in the middle of a dense breast that’s all white on a mammogram, you can’t see it,” says Dr. Jokich. “Dense breasts are also a risk factor for developing breast cancer.” He says women need to be aware of whether or not they have dense breast tissue and ask their doctor whether additional modalities, such as ultrasound, MRI, or molecular breast imaging, should be used to screen for breast cancer. Currently, 27 states have passed legislation mandating that women who have dense breasts be made aware of their breasts’ density after their mammogram and that they should consult with their physician about how to screen for breast cancer.
What is a BI-RADS score?
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How often should I get a mammogram?
Does an abnormal mammogram always mean a cancer diagnosis?
An abnormal mammogram does not always result in a cancer diagnosis. More than likely, the presence of a cyst, breast dense tissue, or microcalcification causes woman to be called in for an additional screening. While getting the call to schedule an additional mammogram can be nerve-racking, Dr. Aboody says women should certainly get the extra workup being recommended. It’s better to have an additional screening to find out nothing is wrong, than to not get screened at all and be diagnosed with breast cancer once it’s reached a more aggressive stage. “You have a lot to lose by being afraid,” says Dr. Aboody. “First of all, the likelihood is great that it’s going to turn out alright; and second, even a diagnosis of cancer can be a lifesaver when found early because it’s a very different disease when it’s found early.”