Simply put, a mammogram is an X-ray picture of a woman’s breast or breasts, that are used to check for the presence of cancer or other abnormality.
While a mammogram can help by detecting breast cancer early on and helping to initiate treatment earlier and more effectively, and studies have shown that mammograms may help reduce the numbers of deaths from breast cancer among women over 50, an abnormal mammogram can be a scary and alarming thing.
So what does an abnormal mammogram mean?
This means that some calcifications and small specks are detected in the breast tissue. It could also mean that cysts (fluid filled sac) or other irregular growths and lumps or even tumors have been detected in the breast tissue. However every abnormal mammogram does not indicate cancer and neither is it necessarily any cause for worry.
If a woman has undergone a mammogram and there has been some irregularity or abnormality detected, then it means that further investigation is needed. Even if a woman find that she has had an abnormal mammogram, this is not automatically cause for concern – it is important to remember that 80% of all breast abnormalities are actually not cancerous.
An abnormal mammogram could mean one of several things – it could mean calcifications caused by milk ducts that were dilated, it could be the presence of a benign cyst, or the remnants of an injury that shows up as scar tissue.
Even vigorous exercise, which can cause indirect trauma to the breast, and not wearing the right kind of bra during exercise, that can damage breast tissue, can result in a mammogram that is not fully normal. Infection, aging and inflammation could also result in abnormal mammograms.
What happens after an abnormal mammogram?
Something has been detected in a mammogram that indicates that there could be a problem; not that there is a problem. So the next step after anything untoward is detected in a mammogram is to find out more about it – what was detected in the mammogram and what does it mean.
A biopsy is usually the next step after a mammogram. This involves the taking of a sample from the tissue of the breast that appears to be affected. The nature of the tissue has to be examined to determine whether there is any cancerous presence there.
A biopsy is not necessarily a surgical procedure that involves sedation, incisions, scarring and possible bleeding; in recent times image guided biopsies are also possible that are minimally invasive and which take very little recovery time. Image guided biopsies use MRI and ultrasound to create an image and using a core needle a vacuum assisted biopsy is done. The needle penetrates minimally and there are no stitches or scarring.
In recent times mammograms have come in for a lot of censure since abnormal mammograms can throw up false positives, which can have very significant negative psychological impact on women. Abnormality detected in a mammogram is known to be stressful and may cause depressive symptoms and anxiety.