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Suspicious Mammogram Result: Now What?

What to expect when you need to get additional diagnostic tests.
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At Your Follow-Up Appointment continued...

"A mammogram requires that the breast is thinned out for optimal views," says Sylvia Adams, MD, an oncologist and assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. "This can be uncomfortable, and if patients are sensitive they may find it helpful to take some over-the-counter pain medicine beforehand and to try to schedule the mammogram after a menstrual period."

For the ultrasound test, you’ll lie on your back on an examination table.

The technician will apply a clear gel to your skin and place a microphone-shaped device called a transducer on the breast. The transducer releases high-frequency sound waves and picks up the echoes from these sound waves, which are translated by a computer into an image of the tissues inside the breast.

The test doesn’t hurt at all, says Adams, but the gel that the technician puts between the skin and the transducer feels cold and wet. Ultrasound is often used to evaluate a specific abnormality that was found on a mammogram or a mass that your doctor can feel but that can’t be seen on the mammogram.

You may also get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, particularly if your doctor finds that the suspicious area in your breast cannot be evaluated with mammograms and ultrasound alone. MRI scans use magnets and radio waves to create detailed pictures of the breast.

For this test, you lie on your stomach on a table that slides into the MRI machine, which is shaped like a narrow tube. The exam itself is painless, but the machine makes loud buzzing and clicking noises and the technician may give you headphones to mask this noise. Also, a contrast agent may be injected into a vein in your arm and this can cause a tingling sensation.

Talking with Your Doctor

In most cases, the doctor who is interpreting your imaging tests will be able to tell you the results right away, Adams tells WebMD. It’s important to make sure this doctor has the results of your mammograms from the past few years so he or she can compare them with your new mammograms. An abnormality, such as a mass, that hasn't changed for a number of years may be more likely to be benign.

After reviewing your test results, the doctor may:

  • Tell you that the abnormality is not of concern and you should return in a year for your routine mammogram.
  • Recommend that you return for another mammogram in six months. Your mammogram and/or ultrasound showed an abnormality that is likely to be benign but should be monitored to see if it changes over time.
  • Advise you to get a biopsy to determine whether the suspicious area in your breast is cancerous. For example, microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) in certain patterns and masses that are not cysts often need to be biopsied.

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