Getting Called Back After a Mammogram

Getting called back after a screening mammogram is fairly common and doesn’t mean you have cancer. In fact, less than 10% of women called back for more tests are found to have breast cancer. Often, it just means more pictures 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 look at) and after mammograms done 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 missed some of your breast tissue and need to be retaken.
  • You have dense breast tissue or a cyst.
  • The radiologist might have seen calcifications or a mass.
  • Sometimes an area just looks different from other parts of the breast.

Sometimes when more pictures 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’re likely to 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 for a different reason. More pictures are taken during a diagnostic mammogram so that any areas of concern can be carefully studied. A radiologist is on hand to advise the technician (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 that uses sound waves to make a computer image of the tissues inside your breast at the area of concern.
  • Some women may need a breast MRI. For a breast MRI, 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 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 1 of 3 things:

  • The suspicious area turned out to be nothing to worry about and you can return to having yearly mammograms.
  •  The area is probably nothing to worry about, but you should have your next mammogram sooner than 1 year – usually in 4 to 6 months – to watch it closely and make sure it doesn’t change over time.
  • The changed area could be cancer and a biopsy is needed 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?

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

There are several different  types of biopsies– some use a needle and some use 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. Download a list from the American Cancer Society or call us at 1-800-227-2345.
  • 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.

Last Medical Review: June 1, 2016 Last Revised: August 18, 2016

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