Called Back For Another Mammogram? Don’t Panic!

Dr. Steve Thomas
OakBend Medical Center

You are doing everything right. You always go for your scheduled mammograms. Then, out of nowhere, you get the call. “We found an abnormality on your mammogram. You’ll need to come back for further screening.” You start to sweat, your heart starts racing and you might even feel the need to cry. Slow down. Don’t panic. Did you know that, according to the American Cancer Society, one in 10 women (and men) get asked to come back for more tests, such as a repeat mammogram or ultrasound? This does not mean you have cancer.  It just means a closer look is needed. This is a good thing.  Healthcare professionals want to catch every little detail as early as possible.

So, take a breath, calm down and schedule your follow up tests. Call your doctor and see how quickly you can get more tests scheduled.

Know that there are lots of reasons that you may be called back in:

The pictures taken at your appointment might not have been clear or didn’t show some of your breast tissue, so they need to be retaken.

The radiologist, the doctor who reads the mammogram, may have seen something suspicious, such as calcifications or a mass (which could be a cyst or solid mass). This may be more likely for first-time mammogram patients since the radiologist does not have any past imaging for comparison.

Dense breast tissue can make it more challenging to read mammograms. If a radiologist has difficulty reading your mammogram due to dense breasts, they may call you back to undergo further testing, such as an ultrasound or an MRI.

So, now what? What is going to happen at the next appointment? Well, most likely you will get a diagnostic mammogram – meaning more pictures will be taken so that any areas of concern can be looked at more closely. Most likely, a radiologist will be on hand to advise the technologist on the detailed images that are needed. You may also get another imaging test, such as an ultrasound of the breast, which uses sound waves to make pictures of the inside of your breast in the area of concern. In some cases, you might need a breast biopsy. Even if you need a biopsy, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. Most biopsy results are not cancer, but a biopsy is the only way to find out. There are different types of breast biopsies, some of which are done using a small, hollow needle, and some that are done through a cut in the skin. The type needed depends on things like how suspicious the area looks, how big it is, where it is in the breast, other medical problems you might have and your personal preferences.

Waiting for appointments and the results of tests can be frightening, especially if you were told the results of your first mammogram weren’t normal. You might have strong emotions, such as disbelief, anxiety, fear, anger or sadness during this time. That’s okay. Most often, breast changes are not cancer and are not life-threatening. Talking with a loved one or a counselor about your feelings may help. Talking with other women who have been called back after a mammogram may help.

If you do have breast cancer, and you’re referred to a breast specialist, use these tips to make your appointment as useful as possible. Make a list of questions to ask. Take a family member or friend with you. They can serve as an extra pair of ears, take notes, help you remember things later and give you support. You might also want to take notes. If someone uses a word you don’t know, ask them to spell it and explain it. Ask the doctors or nurses to explain anything you don’t understand.

Regular mammograms can be lifesaving. All screening tests can catch breast cancer earlier in its course of development, helping you to get the treatment you need as quickly as possible.