"Than What Do I Do......?"
Most of the time, women getting their routine mammogram will receive a letter within 30 days saying the results were normal. But if doctors find something suspicious, they'll call you back – usually within just 5 days – to take new pictures or get other tests. Getting that call can be scary, but a suspicious finding does not mean you have cancer. In fact, less than 10% of women called back for more tests are found to have breast cancer.
What else could it be?
A suspicious finding may be just dense breast tissue, a cyst, or even a tumor that isn't cancer. Other times, the image just isn't clear and needs to be retaken. Or, if this is your first mammogram, your doctor may want to look at an area more closely simply because there is no previous mammogram to compare it with.
What will happen at the follow-up appointment?
You are likely to have another mammogram called a diagnostic mammogram. (Your previous mammogram was called a screening mammogram.) A diagnostic mammogram is still an x-ray of your breasts, but it's done for a different reason. Often, more pictures are taken during a diagnostic mammogram so that any areas of concern can be carefully studied. A radiologist is on hand to advise the technician (the person who operates the mammogram machine) to be sure they have all the images that are needed.
You may also have an ultrasound test that uses sound waves to create a computer image of the tissues inside your breasts. For this test, you will lie on a table while a technician applies some gel and places a transducer – a small instrument that looks like a microphone – on your skin. The test is painless and does not expose you to radiation. This test is often used to look more closely at areas of concern found on a mammogram.
In addition, some women will have an MRI. 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 small, enclosed spaces.
You can expect to learn the results of your tests during the visit. You are likely to be told 1 of 3 things:
You will also get a letter with a summary of the findings that will tell you if you need follow-up tests or when you should schedule your next mammogram.
What if I need a biopsy?
Even if you need a breast biopsy, it still doesn't mean you have cancer. Most biopsy results are not cancer, but a biopsy is the only way to find out. During the procedure, a small amount of tissue is removed and looked at under a microscope.
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 tumor looks, how big it is, where it is in the breast, how many tumors there are, other medical problems you might have, and your personal preferences.
The tissue sample will be sent to a lab where a specialist, called a pathologist, will look at it. It will take a few days, maybe even more than a week, for you to find out the results. Once you get them, it's important to learn whether the results are final, or whether you need another biopsy. You may also decide that you want to get a second opinion. If the results are negative or benign, that means no cancer was found. Be sure to 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 surgeon or other breast specialist.
What if it's cancer?
If you do have cancer and you are referred to a breast specialist, use these tips to make your appointment as useful as possible:
How can I stay calm while waiting?
Waiting for appointments and the results of tests can be frightening. Many women experience strong emotions including disbelief, anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness during this time. Some things to remember:
What else could it be?
SOURCE: Dr. Eva Smith, Sisters Network Chicago Chapter reminding us of this fantstic article from Stacy Simon at the American Cancer Society, reprinted from Sept. 21, 2015 at: www.cancer.org.