Getting your annual mammogram is one of the best ways to take charge of your health. When you get screened for cancer, you’re doing the very important work of prioritizing preventive care. But if you end up getting a follow-up call about findings from your test results, that can be stressful.
Take a deep breath: A follow-up from your mammogram doesn't automatically mean cancer. According to the American College of Radiology, about 10% of women are called back for more tests. And the American Cancer Society reports that fewer than 1 in 10 of those women who are screened further discover they have cancer.
We understand you may be anxious if you’re called back after your mammogram. Know that we’ll do everything we can to support you, answer your questions and help put your mind at ease. Here’s what happens after you have a mammogram and what it means when you're asked to return for more tests.
Routine mammograms are referred to as screening mammograms. The images taken at your screening mammogram are read by a radiologist within a few days of your appointment. You’ll be contacted afterward (by mail, phone or AdventHealth app) about whether the mammogram is normal or if you need to return for follow-up tests, and the report will also be sent to your doctor.
If you haven’t had a mammogram in the past year and you’re over age 40 with no abnormal symptoms, you can self-refer for a screening mammogram. Simply make an appointment and have the results sent directly to you.
If You're Called Back
There are several reasons you might be called back in for more imaging:
Some pictures weren’t clear
You have dense breast tissue
The radiologist sees an area that appears abnormal
The radiologist sees a cyst, calcification or mass
If you're called back, we’ll explain the next steps based on what your radiologist recommends. Usually, this includes a diagnostic mammogram, breast ultrasound or breast MRI. Keep in mind that the vast majority of women who need further diagnostic testing do not end up having cancer. But if your care team needs to take a closer look, here are the tools they might use.
Like your screening mammogram, a diagnostic mammogram is an X-ray of your breast. The experience will be similar and your technician will concentrate on getting additional images of your breast from different angles.
A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to determine if a mass is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid lump. It can show all areas of your breast, including tissue closest to your chest wall that's hard to study with a mammogram. It’s also non-invasive, painless and doesn't expose you to radiation. You'll lie on a table as a technician moves a handheld device called a transducer across the tissue to view any areas of concern.
A breast MRI may be performed along with a mammogram or other imaging procedure if you're at a higher risk of breast cancer. It captures multiple images of your tissue, which are then combined using a computer to generate detailed pictures. In some cases, it’s done after a biopsy tests positive for cancer.
Reading Your Follow-Up Results
After you’ve had an additional screening, your radiologist will explain your results and next steps. You'll likely be told one of three things:
The suspicious area is benign (not cancerous) and you can return to having annual mammograms
You’ll need your next mammogram sooner than normal (usually in four to six months) to monitor the area
You need a biopsy to rule out the presence of cancer
If You Need a Biopsy
If you need a biopsy, you'll be connected with a breast imaging coordinator who will answer any questions you have. A biopsy doesn't mean you have cancer, but it's the best way to know for sure. During the procedure, a small amount of tissue or fluid is removed from your breast.
There are several types of biopsies. The type performed depends on how suspicious the area appears, how big it is, where it is in the breast, how many areas are present, other medical problems you might have and your personal preferences.
After the sample is collected, it's sent to a laboratory to be examined by a pathologist. Your results are typically ready within a few business days.
If Your Biopsy Is Negative
If your biopsy rules out cancer, the radiologist may recommend you come back in a few months for a follow-up mammogram or ultrasound of the breast that was biopsied.
If Your Biopsy Is Positive
If cancer is discovered, know we’re here to guide you at every step toward recovery. We’ll connect you with an oncology nurse navigator who works with your primary care doctor to find the best path forward for you. Rest assured our team of oncologists, radiologists, surgeons and wellness experts, all within the same network of care, are ready to create your individualized treatment plan.
Preventive Care Protects Your Long-Term Wellness
You may never experience abnormal results or a call back for more imaging. Whatever your circumstances, we’re here to make your mammogram experience as smooth, simple and comfortable as possible. Your whole health — in body, mind and spirit — is our priority.
Don’t let questions and concerns keep you from a potentially life-saving screening. Reach out and let us get you the answers you need.