What causes abnormal mammogram results?
While an abnormal result might be cancer, most of the time it’s not cancer and you’re not in danger. Some common reasons for an abnormal result are:
- Fluid-filled sacs (cysts). Up to 60% of women will have these at some point in their lives.
- Small solid lumps (fibroadenomas).
- Small calcium deposits (benign calcifications).
What should I do next?
If you get an abnormal result, the most important thing to do is to go for follow-up tests. Your healthcare provider will have a copy of your results and may have called you already to make an appointment. If you haven’t heard from your healthcare provider yet, you should make an appointment to talk about follow-up tests. If you need more testing, the kinds of tests depend on the type of abnormal changes found. These may include:
- Diagnostic mammogram: This is a special x-ray that takes more images so the radiologist can look at the abnormality closer.
- Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to create an image of your breast. It shows whether a lump is fluid-filled, such as a cyst, or solid.
- Biopsy: This involves removing a small amount of tissue from the abnormal area to look at it more closely in a laboratory.
It’s normal to be worried if you have an abnormal result. Remember that most abnormal screening mammogram results aren’t breast cancer – only about 7% of women need to have further tests, and only a small percentage of these women are diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, 9 out of 10 women who go for extra tests don’t have breast cancer. If it’s breast cancer, finding it early means treatment will likely work better.
What else can I do after getting an abnormal result?
If you’re not sure what to do next after getting an abnormal result:
- Talk to your healthcare provider about your results and any questions you may have.
- Talk to a family member or friend for support. An abnormal result doesn’t mean you have cancer, but it can be stressful.
- Call the Alberta Breast Cancer Screening Program at 1-866-727-3926 for general information about breast cancer screening in Alberta.
Making sense of Abnormal Mammogram Results [brochure]