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Understanding Your Mammogram Report

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Updated June 09, 2014

Understanding your mammogram report is important, whether it says “no sign of cancer” or it indicates that changes have occurred which need follow-up. Your mammogram report will have several kinds of information on it, much of it expressed in medical terms. Discuss your results with your doctor to make sure you understand what it means for your breast health.

Waiting for the Results:

You can expect to get a written report in the mail within 30 days of the mammogram. When you arrive for your appointment, check at the desk to be sure that the office has your most current address and phone number. Your doctor also will receive a copy of the report.

Information that Appears on Your Mammogram Report:

  • patient information
  • medical history
  • procedures
  • findings
  • impression (BIRADS classification)
  • recommendation for further tests, if needed

Findings -- the Critical Information on Your Mammogram:

The findings section is a list of things found on a radiologist’s reading of your mammogram. If you have nothing of concern and all appears well, it will be assessed as normal or negative or benign (not cancerous). If the radiologist sees anything that causes concern or appears abnormal, or is a change from your previous mammogram, it will be assessed as suspicious or abnormal, or suggestive of malignancy (cancerous).

Descriptions of Abnormalities:

If you have abnormalities or changes on your mammogram, some details will be included in the report. These details can include:
  • size of the finding
  • location
  • shape or outline
  • density of breast tissue

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer:

Lumps and bumps and other abnormalities may be described with these terms, if the radiologist thinks you may have breast cancer:
  • clustered calcifications, microcalcifications
  • spiculated mass (spiky lump)
  • assymetrical density of breast tissue
  • skin thickening
  • retraction (skin or nipple pulling inwards)
  • focal distortion (something is pressing on tissue)

Impressions From Your Radiologist:

Your mammogram report may include a Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System - BIRADS classification, which is a number that indicates your radiologist’s overall impression of your mammogram. The scale for BIRADS goes from one to five, with higher numbers indicating a greater possibility of breast cancer.

Possible Recommendations For Follow-Up:

Your radiologist may make some recommendations based on your mammogram results. The kinds of follow-up that may be needed are:
  • no other studies needed
  • three-month or six-month follow-up imaging
  • spot views
  • magnification
  • diagnostic mammogram
  • breast ultrasound (for lumps and masses)
  • biopsy (for a tissue sample)

Be Sure You Understand Your Results:

If your mammogram report states anything other than normal or negative (clear of cancer), please discuss it with your doctor. Research has shown that although 70 percent of patients clearly understand a normal mammogram result, 50 percent of patients who have an abnormal result do not understand what it means. This study also showed that a patient showed the best understanding of a mammogram when the results were explained in person or on the phone, by a health professional. Follow-up tests can clear up results, and give you a plan of action to protect your breast health.

Sources:

Poor Patient Comprehension of Abnormal Mammography Results. Leah S. Karliner M.D., Celia Patricia Kaplan, Teresa Juarbe, Rena Pasick, and Eliseo J. Perez-Stable, "Poor Patient Comprehension of Abnormal Mammography Results" (2005). Journal of General Internal Medicine. 20 (5), pp. 432-437. 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.40281.x.
Postprint available free at: http://repositories.cdlib.org/postprints/726


Related Video
Getting a Mammogram
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