Going for a mammogram can induce anxiety and raise questions before, during and after the procedure. Receiving a callback for further views or testing can put women even more on edge. But very often, these procedures are nothing to worry about.
When a doctor requests additional mammogram views or even a biopsy, this doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has found cancer. It just means the doctor needs further clarification of an abnormality seen on the mammogram. Breast tissue is dense, and sometimes mammograms do not provide adequate views of all areas of the breast. An anomaly on a mammogram might be a benign calcification in the breast, a shadow or a noncancerous lump.
Getting called back for another look is quite common. The American Cancer Society says about 10 percent of women who have had a mammogram will be called back for more tests. Only about 10 percent of those women will require a biopsy. And among those who do, 80 percent of the biopsies turn out to be benign.
In general, most doctors will receive results of follow-up mammograms and biopsies within one to two weeks.
Here’s what to expect at a follow-up exam.
There are different steps doctors can take to further clarify an anomaly in breast tissue. One of the first procedures is another mammogram, typically called a diagnostic mammogram. The breasts will be imaged, but this time it may take longer because more images may be ordered of particular areas of the breast or breasts. The breast tissue needs to be thinned out considerably in a mammogram, and this can be uncomfortable for women, particularly those with large breasts. Some doctors recommend scheduling a mammogram after your menstrual period has ended, and you can take a painkiller to minimize pain.
A doctor may order an ultrasound, as well. A technician will apply a clear gel to your skin and ask you to lie back on a table. The technician will then pass a transducer on the breast. This device sends out high-frequency sound waves and maps the echoes it receives to form a picture. This ultrasound is the same type of procedure used to check a fetus during pregnancy. An ultrasound may diagnose an abnormality that a doctor cannot see well on a mammogram.
A doctor might resort to an MRI if ultrasound or a traditional mammogram prove inconclusive. MRI scans use magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images. There are now open MRI machines that minimize feelings of claustrophobia for those who have an aversion to the closed tubes of traditional machines.
If you need a biopsy, a needle may be pushed into the breast to capture fluid or tissue from the suspicious area. Some doctors make a small surgical incision to remove abnormal tissue. The sample will be examined under a microscope to determine the types of cells.
Learning about tests that are conducted for breast health can put women’s minds at ease while waiting for follow-up appointments and results. Discuss any questions you may have with your doctor and rest assured that a follow-up test is not indicative of a cancer diagnosis.