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Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women

  • Updated: 03/25/2014

Getting Your Mammogram Results

You should get a written report of your mammogram results within 30 days of your mammogram, since this is the law. Be sure the mammography facility has your address and phone number. It's helpful to get your mammogram at the same place each year. This way, your current mammogram can be compared with past mammograms.

If your results were normal:

  • Your breast tissue shows no signs of a mass or calcification.
  • Visit your health care provider if you notice a breast change before your next appointment.

If your results were abnormal:

  • A breast change was found. It may be benign (not cancer), premalignant (may become cancer), or cancer.
  • It's important to get all the follow-up tests your health care provider asks you to.

If you don't get your results, call your health care provider.

Keep in mind that most breast changes are not cancer. But all changes need to be checked, and more tests may be needed.

"I used to think when a mammogram found something, it was cancer. It turns out that most breast changes are not cancer."

 

What can a mammogram show?

From left to right: Normal mammogram, Benign cyst (not cancer), Cancer

Mammograms can show lumps, calcifications, and other changes in your breast. The radiologist will study the mammogram for breast changes that do not look normal and for differences between your breasts. When possible, he or she will compare your most recent mammogram with past mammograms to check for changes.

Lump (or mass)

The size, shape, and edges of a lump give the radiologist important information. A lump that is not cancer often looks smooth and round and has a clear, defined edge. Lumps that look like this are often cysts. See Breast Changes and Conditions: Getting Follow-up Test Results for more information about cysts. However, if the lump on the mammogram has a jagged outline and an irregular shape, more tests are needed.

Depending on the size and shape of the lump, your health care provider may ask you to have:

  • Another clinical breast exam
  • Another mammogram to have a closer look at the area
  • An ultrasound exam to find out if the lump is solid or is filled with fluid
  • A test called a biopsy to remove cells, or the entire lump, to look at under a microscope to check for signs of disease

Calcifications

Calcium in your diet does not cause calcium deposits (calcifications) in the breast.

Calcifications are deposits of calcium in the breast tissue. They are too small to be felt, but can be seen on a mammogram. There are two types:

  • Macrocalcifications look like small white dots on a mammogram. They are common in women over 50 years old. Macrocalcifications are not related to cancer and usually don't need more testing.
  • Microcalcifications look like tiny white specks on a mammogram. They are usually not a sign of cancer. However, if they are found in an area of rapidly dividing cells, or grouped together in a certain way, you may need more tests.

Depending on how many calcifications you have, their size, and where they are found, your health care provider may ask you to have:

  • Another mammogram to have a closer look at the area
  • A test called a biopsy to check for signs of disease

Are mammogram results always right?

Mammography is a good tool to find breast changes in most women who have no signs of breast cancer. However, it does not detect all breast cancers, and many changes it finds are not cancer. See your health care provider if you have a lump that was not seen on a mammogram or notice any other breast changes.

"Even though I was nervous, I'm glad I got the breast biopsy my doctor asked me to. As I waited for my results, it helped to remember the words of my doctor: 'Most breast changes are not cancer.'"