Ask the Nurse

What if they see something on my mammogram? How accurate is it?

“They think they see something on my mammogram.” The fear this sentence evokes is real, but it can be quieted by facts. Most abnormalities on a mammogram are NOT breast cancer.

Screening mammography is individualized for women based on age and risk, including history of breast cancer, chest radiation and BRCA gene. A yearly mammogram is recommended for high risk women starting at age 40. For women of lower risk, a yearly mammogram can start at age 50 and be done every 2 years.

High risk women need more intensive screening. This small group needs further evaluation, which might include the following:

  • Breast physical exam
  • Diagnostic mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Needle biopsy

However, after additional evaluation, most of these women are found to have nothing wrong. Their questionable abnormalities are often normal breast tissue or benign (non-cancerous) tissue.

Mammography is 85 to 90 percent accurate. Mammograms have improved the ability to detect breast abnormalities before they are large enough to be felt. However, it is possible that a mass you feel might not show up on a mammogram. Any abnormality that you feel when examining your breasts should be evaluated by your health care provider. A diagnostic mammogram might be recommended.

The best opportunity for a positive outcome is early detection. Breast cancer might be curable if detected at an early stage.

All my best,
Speaking of Women’s Health Nurse

August 22, 2013 at 12:19pm