In the United States, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women after skin cancer, and though rare, it can also occur in men.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women start getting an annual mammogram when they turn 40, with ages 45 to 54 being the prime cancer-detecting years. Women ages 55 and older, after consulting with their primary care provider, may be able to get a mammogram every two years.
Getting routine screenings and staying aware of your health risks can help detect breast cancer early. In fact, about 40% of the breast cancer detected last year in women in southeastern North Carolina was found through a routine mammogram screening.
Not sure how you’ll pay for your mammogram? NHRMC may be able to help.
If your screening mammogram shows an anomaly, you’ll be scheduled for a call back appointment. If you have to come in for another appointment, don’t worry. In fact, about 10 to 12 percent of women are called back after a mammogram for more tests – and fewer than 1 in 10 women are actually found to have cancer after that second appointment, according to American Cancer Society.
“It’s not uncommon for a patient … to get called back for additional pictures. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with the pictures,” said Linda Marryat, mammography coordinator at NHRMC. “Sometimes there are areas we need to investigate further to determine whether or not it’s normal breast tissue.”
Getting called back for a second appointment also doesn’t mean the mammography technologist made a mistake or didn’t catch something during your first screening.
“More often than not, it’s because something has changed. We need to determine whether that’s a patient’s new normal or whether something is going on,” Marryat said.
If you’re nervous or scared, that’s normal.
For a call back appointment, you’ll be seen as soon as possible – within 24 to 48 hours of receiving a new order from your provider. These appointments are designed to get more information about an anomaly shown in your original mammogram. They may include:
- Another mammogram where more images of the breast are taken, and/or
- A breast ultrasound
Mammograms and breast ultrasounds are both noninvasive tests, and the radiologist will choose the appropriate option based on what your original mammogram showed. Sometimes the technologist will need to use a magnification stand in your second appointment so they can see a larger version of the images. Sometimes they’ll use a smaller paddle so they can get better compression and spread out the area in question.
Breast tissue changes over the course of a person’s life, and many of those changes are benign or just need to be monitored, Marryat said. A change in your breast tissue does not automatically mean cancer.
After the mammogram and/or ultrasound is complete, the radiologist will review the findings and let you know if you need any additional imaging. Your follow-up appointment will take about an hour to two hours, depending on how many tests you need.
A short-term follow-up appointment will happen within three to six months after your original appointment and is designed to observe the anomaly. Again, Marryat said, this type of appointment doesn’t indicate that the change will turn into cancer. It’s just to keep an eye on the new changes and to ensure the area does not change over time.
To learn more about mammograms and their importance, listen to this podcast with Marryat.
NHRMC is one of 21 hospitals across the country named by the American Cancer Society as a Community of Practice site, working with community partners to advance health equity in breast cancer screening and prevention. Learn more here.