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What Happens When You Get a Diagnostic Mammogram

October 1, 2019

mammogram-breast-cancer-awarenessYou’ve had your yearly mammogram and think you’re done. Then you get a letter or phone call saying that you have to return for what’s called a diagnostic mammogram.

For many women, the response is immediate: Overwhelming anxiety.

Here are a few things to keep in mind, courtesy of the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Diagnostic Mammograms Provide Reassurance

In the vast majority of cases, when a woman returns for a diagnostic mammogram there is ultimately nothing wrong. And when a tumor is found, only about 20% are determined to be cancerous. Most cancerous tumors are highly treatable. What’s more, cancer treatment options are continually improving.

What You Can Expect From a Diagnostic Mammogram

Unlike your original mammogram (called a screening mammogram) the purpose of this appointment is to diagnose any actual problems that may exist.

Usually, additional images are taken during a diagnostic mammogram. Unlike in screening mammograms, a radiologist is on hand to advise the technician so that all necessary images have been taken to reach a conclusion.

You may also have an ultrasound which is a painless test that does not involve any radiation. This test is used to look more closely at areas of concern found on a mammogram. If a suspicious area is found, for example, an ultrasound can distinguish between a solid growth and a fluid-filled cyst.

Additionally, some women will have an MRI.

By the time you leave your appointment, you will have been told one of three things:

• The suspicious area turned out to be nothing.

• The area is likely benign, but you should return to have it evaluated within four to six months to make sure it is not changing over time.

• Cancer was not ruled out and a biopsy is needed; 80% of all biopsies turn out to be negative.

Diagnostic Mammograms Are Common

As valuable as they can be, screenings do have their issues. If a woman gets regular mammograms for a decade, she will have a 50 percent chance of being called back for what turns out to be a false positive. For some women, that can result in lifelong anxiety — even if no further problems are ever found.

This study by the Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy and Clinical Practice indicates that screenings are much more likely to find insignificant breast tumors than they are to catch potentially life-threatening cancer in its early stages, meaning that—if true—many women undergo treatment for cancers that would never have hurt them anyway.

The dilemma is that science has not yet evolved enough to allow doctors to distinguish between the kind of breast cancer that would never cause any harm and the kind that could. Which is why, for many women, vigilant screening is seen as the right choice.

At the end of the day, the decision about when and how often to schedule a mammogram is a personal one that takes your individual risk factors into consideration and is made in consultation with your doctor. North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group can help. Download our guide today to learn what you need to know about breast cancer at any age. It’s information that provides peace of mind.

Breast Cancer Guide