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If You’re Called Back After a Mammogram

tech or nurse helping a patient get in position for a mammogram

Getting called back after a screening mammogram is pretty common but can be scary. But getting called back does not mean you have breast cancer. It means that the doctors have found something they want to look at more closely. 

If you get called back, it's usually to take new pictures or get other tests. Fewer than 1 in 10 women called back for more tests are found to have cancer.

What else could it be?

Sometimes, the image just isn’t clear and needs to be retaken. This may be because you have  dense breast tissue which may make it hard to see parts of your breast. Or, the doctors may see calcifications or a mass, which could be a cyst or solid mass.

If this is your first mammogram, your doctor may want to look more closely at an area simply because there is no previous mammogram to compare it with.

What will happen at the follow-up appointment?

You likely will have another mammogram called a diagnostic mammogram. (Your previous mammogram was called a screening mammogram.) A diagnostic mammogram is still an x-ray of your breasts. However, 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 create a computer image of the inside of your breasts. For this test, you will lie on a table while a technologist applies some gel and places a small instrument that looks like a microphone on your skin. You might feel some pressure, but it should not be painful. This test may be used to look more closely at a change that was seen on a mammogram.

Some women will need an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). A breast MRI uses radio waves and strong magnets to make detailed pictures of the inside of the breast.  You will lie face down inside a narrow tube for up to an hour. The test can be uncomfortable for people who don’t like small, enclosed spaces, but should not be painful.

You will most likely learn the results of your tests during the appointment. You might be told:

  • The extra tests showed nothing to worry about and you can return to your regular mammogram schedule.
  • The results are probably nothing to worry about, but you should have your next mammogram sooner than normal – usually in 6 months – to make sure nothing changes over time.
  • It could be cancer and a biopsy is needed to tell for sure.

You will also get a letter with a summary of the findings, which will tell you if you need follow-up tests 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 do not show cancer. But a biopsy is the only way to find out for sure. During the procedure, a small amount of tissue is removed and studied under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells.

There are different types of biopsies. Some use a needle, and some are done through a cut in the skin. The type of biopsy you have depends on how concerning the breast change looks, how big it is, where it is in the breast, how many areas of change there are, other medical problems you might have, and your personal preferences.

It will take a few days, maybe even more than a week, for you to find out the results. If the results are negative or benign, that means no cancer was found. Be sure to ask the doctor whether you need any follow-up and when you should have your next screening mammogram. If the biopsy shows that you have cancer, your doctor will refer you to a breast surgeon or other breast specialist

How can I stay calm while waiting?

Waiting for appointments and the results of tests can be frightening. Many women experience strong emotions including disbelief, anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness during this time. Keep in mind that

  • 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 to answer your questions and provide support.

What if it’s cancer?

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

  • Make a list of questions to ask at the appointment. Get 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, help you remember things later, and give you support.
  • Ask if you can record important conversations. You might also want to 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 oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.