Getting Called Back After a Mammogram

Getting called back after a screening mammogram is fairly common and doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. In fact, fewer than 1 in 10 women called back for more tests are found to have cancer. Often, it just means more x-rays or an ultrasound needs to be done to get a closer look at an area of concern.

Getting called back is more common after a first mammogram, or when there’s no previous mammogram to compare the new mammogram with. It's also more common in women who haven’t gone through menopause.

What else could it be?

You could be called back after your mammogram because:

  • The pictures weren’t clear or didn't show some of your breast tissue and need to be retaken.
  • You have dense breast tissue, which can make it hard to see some parts of your breasts.
  • The radiologist sees calcifications or a mass (a cyst or solid tumor).
  • The radiologist sees an area that just looks different from other parts of the breast.

Sometimes when more x-rays are taken of the area or mass, or the area is compressed more, it no longer looks suspicious. In fact, most repeat mammograms do not find cancer.

What will happen at the follow-up appointment?

  • You’ll likely have another mammogram called a diagnostic mammogram. (Your previous mammogram was called a screening mammogram.) A diagnostic mammogram is done just like a screening mammogram, but more pictures are taken so that any areas of concern can be carefully studied. A radiologist is on hand to advise the technologist (the person who operates the mammogram machine) to be sure they have all the images that are needed.
  • You may also have an ultrasound test, which uses sound waves to make pictures of the inside of your breast at the area of concern.
  • Some women may need a breast MRI. For this test, you’ll lie face down inside a narrow tube for up to an hour while the machine creates more detailed images of the breast tissues. MRI is painless, but it can be uncomfortable for people who don’t like small, tight spaces.

You can expect to learn the results of your tests during the visit. You are likely to be told one of the following:

  • The suspicious area turned out to be nothing to worry about and you can return to your normal mammogram schedule.
  • The area is probably nothing to worry about, but you should have your next mammogram sooner than normal – usually in 6 months – to watch it closely and make sure it's not changing over time.
  • The changed area could be cancer, so you will need to have a biopsy to know for sure.

You’ll also get a letter with a summary of the findings that will tell you if you need more tests and/or when you should schedule your next mammogram.

What if I need a biopsy?

During a breast biopsy, a small piece of breast tissue is removed and checked for cancer under a microscope. Even if you need a biopsy, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. Most biopsy results are not cancer, but a biopsy is the only way to find out.

There are several different types of biopsies, some of which are done using a needle and some that are done through a cut in the skin. The type you have depends on things like how suspicious the tumor looks, how big it is, where it is in the breast, how many tumors there are,  other medical problems you might have, and your personal preferences.

How can I stay calm while waiting?

Waiting for appointments and the results of tests can be frightening. Many women have strong emotions including disbelief, anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness during this time. Here are some things to remember:

  • It’s normal to have these feelings.
  • Most breast changes are not cancer and are not life-threatening.
  • Talking with a loved one or a counselor about your feelings may help.
  • Talking with other women who have been through a breast biopsy may help.
  • The American Cancer Society is available at 1-800-227-2345 around the clock to answer your questions and provide support.

What if it’s cancer?

If you do have cancer and you’re referred to a breast specialist, use these tips to make your appointment as useful as possible:

  • Make a list of questions to ask.
  • Take a family member or friend with you. They can serve as an extra pair of ears, take notes, help you remember things later, and give you support.
  • Ask if you can record the conversations.
  • Take notes. If someone uses a word you don’t know, ask them to spell it and explain it.
  • Ask the doctors or nurses to explain anything you don’t understand.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Helvie MA, Patterson SK. Chapter 11: Imaging Analysis: Mammography. In: Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK, eds. Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.

Last Medical Review: September 1, 2017 Last Revised: October 9, 2017

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