For most women, the results of a mammogram may be good news. The mammogram may show no sign of breast cancer.
However, about 10% of women who go for a mammogram are called back for follow-up tests.
If your mammogram shows something abnormal, you will need follow-up tests to check whether or not the finding is breast cancer.
But don’t worry just yet! 8 out of 10 women called back for further tests do not have breast cancer. Sometimes follow-up tests show a benign breast condition or normal breast tissue.
However, it’s important not to delay follow-up. If breast cancer is found, it’s best to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest possible stage.
What if my mammogram shows a problem?
If you have an abnormal mammogram, the follow-up tests you will have depend on the recommendations of the radiologist.
You are likely to have a:
1. Diagnostic mammogram
A second mammogram that focuses on specific areas of the breast – this is so that any particular areas of concern can be carefully studied.
An imaging test that uses sound waves to create a picture of your breast. You will lie on a table while a radiographer applies some gel and places a small instrument called a transducer on your skin. The test is painless and does not expose you to any radiation.
In addition, you may also have an:
3. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Using a powerful magnet linked to a computer, an MRI makes detailed pictures of breast tissue. Your doctor can view these pictures on a monitor or print them on film. MRI may be used along with a mammogram.
For a breast MRI, you will lie face down inside a narrow tube for up to an hour while sensors capture information used to create a more detailed image of the tissues inside your breasts. The test is painless, but can be uncomfortable for people who don’t like enclosed spaces.
After these tests, you are likely to be told 1 of 3 things:
1. The suspicious area turned out to be nothing to worry about – phew, now you have a peace of mind!
2. The area is probably nothing to worry about, but you should have your next mammogram sooner than normal (usually in 4 to 6 months) to make sure it doesn’t change over time.
3. Cancer is not ruled out yet, and you will need a biopsy to tell for sure.
If cancer is not yet ruled out, you will need a
A test in which fluid or tissue is removed from your breast to help find out if there is cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a surgeon or to a doctor who is an expert in breast disease for a biopsy.
There are several different types of biopsies – most use a needle, but some use an incision. The type you have depends on things like how suspicious the tumour looks, how big it is, where it is in the breast, how many tumours there are, other medical problems you might have, and your personal preferences.
A specialist will look at the tissue sample with a microscope. It will likely take a few days to a week for you to find out the results.
If the results are negative or benign, that means no cancer was found. Ask the doctor whether you need any additional follow-up, and when you should have your next screening mammogram.
If the biopsy shows that you do have cancer, your doctor may refer you to a breast specialist.
YOU CAN DO IT! Tips to face and ace your tests
- It is normal and okay to feel shocked, anxious, fearful, or sad during this time.
- It might help to talk with other women who have been through a breast biopsy or have been through cancer.
- Be sure to get the emotional support you need. Share your feelings with friends, loved ones, your specialist or a counsellor.
- Calm yourself and remember that most breast changes/lumps are not cancer and are not life-threatening. But even if it is cancer, take heart that you are discovering it earlier and not later. When breast cancer is detected and treated at an early stage, chances are that you can beat the cancer.