Understanding Your Mammogram Report

A Look at Common Abnormalities

doctor explaining mammogram results to female patient
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Whether it says “no sign of cancer” or it indicates that changes have occurred which need follow-up, understanding your mammogram report is important. Your mammogram report will have several types of information; much of it expressed in medical terms. It's important to discuss your results with your doctor so that you fully comprehend what any changes or abnormalities mean, and in doing so, are aware of any further tests are needed.

Waiting for Mammogram Results

The first step after your mammogram, is, unfortunately, waiting. This period of waiting, however, deserves special mention. One of the more common reasons for malpractice suits concerning breast cancer is that people never received the results of their mammogram. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which papers (and computer documentation) can be lose amongst the busyness of the day. If you are waiting for your results and have not called your clinic, please do. And if you still don't have answers, call again.

When you have your mammogram you will usually be given an estimated period of time before your doctor has your results. This can vary from a week and up to a month, depending on your physician. If your personal physician happens to be be out of town, you don't usually need to worry that a grossly abnormal result will sit on her desk for a month while she is traveling afar. But if you haven't received your results in a timely manner by all means call.

You can expect to get a written report in the mail within 30 days of your 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 will also receive a copy of the report.

The Mammogram Report

The mammogram report itself will include the following breakdown:

  • Patient information
  • Medical history
  • Procedures
  • Findings
  • Impression (BIRADS classification)
  • Recommendation for further tests, if needed

Findings/Critical Information

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, negative, or benign (not cancerous).

If the radiologist sees anything that causes concern, appears abnormal, or is a change from your previous mammogram, it will be assessed as suspicious, 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, including:

  • Size of the finding
  • Location
  • Shape or outline
  • Density of breast tissue

Warning Signs

Lumps, bumps, and other abnormalities may be described with the following terms, if the radiologist thinks you may have breast cancer:

  • Clustered calcifications or 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

Your radiologist may make some recommendations based on your mammogram results. The kinds of follow-up that may be needed include:

  • No other studies needed
  • Three-month or six-month follow-up imaging
  • Spot views
  • Magnification
  • Diagnostic mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound (for lumps and masses, as a breast ultrasound can often distinguish between solid masses and breast cysts)
  • Breast MRI (if you're feeling nervous about why your doctor would order an MRI, learn about the differences between a mammogram and an MRI in the evaluation of breast tissue)
  • Biopsy (for a tissue sample)

Understanding Your Results

If your mammogram report states anything other than normal or negative (clear of cancer), 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.

Research also showed that a people had 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.

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