Understanding Your Mammogram Report

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 kinds of information on it, much of it expressed in medical terms. Discuss your results with your doctor to make sure you fully comprehend what it means for your breast health.

Waiting for Results

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 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 for Follow-Up

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)
  • 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 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:

Leah S. Karliner M.D., Celia Patricia Kaplan, Teresa Juarbe, Rena Pasick, and Eliseo J. Perez-Stable, "Poor Patient Comprehension of Abnormal Mammography Results." Journal of General Internal Medicine. 20 (5), pp. 432-437. 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.40281.x.

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