For a lot of women, working up the nerve to go in for a mammogram is tough. But it's an effort that's certainly worth the anxiety, especially if you're 40 or older or if you have a family history of breast cancer.
After a mammogram, many women receive notice that the radiologist wants to get another look at an area of breast tissue. That news can sound ominous, but it isn't an indication that something's wrong and it certainly doesn't mean that you have cancer.
Dense breast tissue often is at the root of the request. When breast tissue is dense (and the younger you are, the denser your tissue), radiologists have a harder time getting a good view inside it.
The most common reasons that you might get called back after a mammogram include:
• Calcifications: These are little areas of calcium in the ducts of the breast. 90 percent of them are benign. In some cases, the radiologist will want to obtain a biopsy of the area.
• Lumps: Many lumps end up being fibroadenomas — benign solid tumors that are common in young women. The radiologist might recommend a six-month follow-up or a biopsy to confirm that the lump is a fibroadenoma. If the lump looks more concerning, you are likely to have a biopsy.
• Cysts: Very common in breast tissue, cysts also are often painful. They can be drained under ultrasound-guided assistance to relieve the pain. Sometimes, cysts go away without any intervention.
• Asymmetry: Basically, this is any spot in your breast that looks unusual. It could be a glandular area that when compressed just looked a little different. Taking more views at higher magnification can give the radiologist a better idea what's happening.
There is a 10 percent call back rate on all women getting their mammograms, especially if it is their first time getting a mammogram and there are no prior screenings to compare it to. For every 100 women screened, 10 will get called back. Of those 10 women called back, 2 women will get a biopsy, and of those 2 women, up to 75 percent of their tumors are benign.
If you need a biopsy, you usually can have it performed at the breast center or in a physician's office. It's an outpatient procedure that uses only local anesthesia. And you won't have to wait long for answers: Most biopsy results are returned within three days.
Prevention is key to fighting breast cancer. Remember: Most mammograms show no problems. Don't let fear keep you away from this simple, life-saving screen!