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Women's Health

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Risks continued...

A mammogram may appear to detect a cancer even when a cancer is not present (false-positive results). This can occur at any age but is more likely with younger women. False-positive results can lead to emotional distress and unneeded tests and treatments.

A mammogram may miss finding breast cancer even when it is there (false-negative results). This is more likely to happen with young women who have dense breasts. False-negative results can keep a woman from getting treatment and can give her a false sense of security.

Also, mammograms may find certain types of breast cancer that would never cause symptoms or threaten a woman's life. But doctors cannot tell what kinds of cancer will cause problems, so all cancers are treated. This means that women may end up having tests and treatments they don't need. These can cause harm.

There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the very low levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.


A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to screen for breast cancer. Mammogram results are usually available within 10 days. It is not uncommon to be asked to return for another test so an additional view of an area in question can be obtained.

In the United States, facilities that perform mammograms send the results directly to your doctor's office and must send you a copy of the test results (written in language that is easily understood) within 30 days.



Breast tissue looks normal. No unusual growths, lumps, or other types of abnormal tissue are seen. The glands that produce milk for breast-feeding and the tubes (ducts) through which milk flows appear normal.


An abnormal growth, lump, or other type of tissue may be seen. A cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign) tumor may be seen. One or more fluid-filled pockets (cysts) may be seen.

Bits of calcium (calcifications) may be seen. Tiny calcifications (microcalcifications) often occur in areas where cells are growing very rapidly (such as in a cancerous tumor). Larger calcifications (macrocalcifications) are usually normal and noncancerous in women older than age 50.

Need more information:

A specific area needs to be looked at again. This is a very common result for many women and does not mean that the area is abnormal or cancerous.

Most abnormalities found during a mammogram are not breast cancer. But many women who have regular screening mammograms need more tests to investigate any abnormalities found during a mammogram. If an area of your breast tissue appears to be a concern during a mammogram, other tests may be done.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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