Abnormal Mammogram – No Need to Panic

Abnormal MammogramDid you know that IMV medical research group reported that there were over 36.7 million mammograms performed in 2008?  Of those 5 to 15 percent were read as abnormal or requiring further evaluation or according to the Radiological Society of North America.  Broken down that means between 1.8 and 5.5 million people are told they have an abnormal mammogram.

Most abnormalities found in mammogram results are not breast cancer. Based on the American Cancer Society estimates for 2009 there will be around 192,000 cases of invasive breast cancer and approximately 62,000 situ (non-invasive) breast cancer cases diagnosed this year. This means that only 5 to 14% of all the abnormal mammograms eventually lead to a breast cancer diagnosis.

The vast majority of abnormal mammogram results are considered “false positives,” but should be followed up with further evaluations. This may include a diagnostic mammography, an ultrasound or a needle biopsy.  There are many kinds of benign breast growths, easily recognized by the follow-up testing, including cysts, calcification, fibro-adenomas, or fibrocystic breast tissue.

  • Diagnostic mammograms use the same x-ray equipment as a screening mammogram, but focus specifically on an area of the breast tissue that appeared abnormal in a screening mammogram. These diagnostic mammograms are also used with patients who have discovered a lump before having a base-line or screening mammogram.
  • An ultrasound of the breast uses sound waves to draw a digital picture of a lump.  The digital image or sonogram allows the diagnostician to determine if the lump is filled with fluid or is solid.  The test is virtually painless. The technician applies some lubricant to the breast and then slowly passes a transducer (wand) over the breast.
  • Needle biopsies are done under local anesthetic and generally leave no scarring.  There are four types of needle biopsies used depending on the sample size required for diagnosis; fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, vacuum-assisted biopsy and large core biopsy.  Needle biopsies are sometimes done in conjunction with an ultrasound. The ultrasound allows the physician to locate the tissue to be sampled, when the lump can’t be felt.  Several needle insertions are usually required to obtain an adequate sample.

The important thing to remember is that most abnormal mammogram results do not indicate a serious problem or condition and the earlier cancer is diagnosed the more treatment options will be available.

Written by Peggy Eizans of Howell, MI

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