When you have your routine screening mammogram, you’re hoping to hear that you don’t have any signs of breast cancer. And that’s usually the case. For 88 to 93 percent of women, no further testing is required. But that leaves 7 to 12 percent of women who need additional screening.
If you get a callback for more screening, try not to be too anxious. Most of the time, it doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. Here are a few things that could show up on a screening mammogram.
It’s common for calcifications to appear on mammograms, especially in women older than 50. Calcifications are calcium deposits in the breast that look like little white spots on a mammogram. They are almost always noncancerous, but sometimes the way they appear can be a sign of cancer. So, if your mammograms show calcifications, your doctor may want to have a closer look at that area.
Lumps or masses
Some lumps are so small you can’t feel them, but they show up on a mammogram. If you learn you have a lump on your breast, you may be worried, but most lumps are not cancerous. Your doctor may request another mammogram, an ultrasound, or a breast MRI to evaluate a lump. If those tests don’t rule out cancer, your doctor may recommend a biopsy.
Breast asymmetry means your breasts don’t look the same as each other. While it’s common for breasts to look slightly different on the outside, they tend to look similar on mammograms. Your breasts should also look roughly the same as they did on your previous mammograms.
So, if one of your breasts looks denser or different than the other on your mammograms or different than it did in the past, you may need a follow-up mammogram. Sometimes, that additional mammogram makes it clear that there’s no sign of problems. If not, your doctor might recommend an ultrasound, MRI, or biopsy.
Architectural distortion can appear when something pulls on your breast tissue. So, the way your breast was positioned during the mammogram may cause architectural distortion. It could also show up if your breast has been injured or if you’ve had a procedure performed on it. But since architectural distortion could be a sign of breast cancer, your doctor may request another mammogram for clarification.
About 50 percent of women have dense breasts, which means your breasts are made up of more glandular and connective tissue and less fatty tissue. You can’t tell if your breasts are dense yourself, but dense breasts look different on a mammogram—the dense areas on a mammogram appear white. Calcifications and tumors also look white, so it can be harder to spot them in dense breasts. If you have dense breasts, you might be called back for follow-up testing more often.
Valerie Gorman, MD, is an employee of HealthTexas Provider
Network, a member of Baylor Scott & White Health.