Thyra M. Humphreys Center for Breast Health

What will my results mean?

Normal Results

If you have a normal mammogram, you will receive a letter with your results usually within one week. Your ordering physician will also be notified.

Abnormal Results

If your mammogram is abnormal you may be called to schedule additional testing. To ensure accuracy and prevent unnecessary surgical procedures, additional views or other types of diagnostic procedures are sometimes necessary.

In diligent pursuit of an accurate interpretation, we sometimes request further imaging studies, such as additional mammographic views or an ultrasound. This happens to about 10 percent of all screening mammography patients. Your ordering physician will also be notified and will provide us with an order for the additional tests.

Most breast contain “abnormalities” such as calcifications, or masses. It is only when these areas show changes sufficiently different from the average patient, that the mammogram is interpreted as “abnormal.” An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that there is cancer.

Common abnormalities include:

  • Calcifications: Calcifications, also called microcalcifications, are mineral deposits in the breast that may be caused by dried up secretions, trauma to the breast, resorbed blood, or dead tissue cells. These small calcium deposits are often found in clusters by a mammogram. Dietary calcium levels do not have any relationship to breast calcifications. Calcifications indicate changes within the breast. Certain patterns of calcifications can be associated with cancer or benign breast disease.
  • Density: Area of thicker breast tissue.
  • Masses: masses can sometimes be an indicator of cancer. To determine if a mass seen on film is suspicious, the doctor needs to see the border of the mass very clearly; this may require some additional imaging.
  • Cyst: Cysts are accumulations of fluid in the breast (or other tissue in organs). Most of the time cysts may be left alone, but sometimes a physician may drain them with a small needle.

Frequently Asked Questions about Results

If I have to come back for additional films or tests, does this mean I have cancer?

No. The vast majority of women who need to have additional views do not have cancer. It is our responsibility to be exceedingly cautious and look into any changes in your tissue or areas that may have appeared suspicious on your films. Often, taking another film, with the breast tissue seen from a different angle, will help determine if the area is truly of concern.

I was told that I need additional testing. Does this mean the technologist did something wrong?

The most common reason for additional vies is not a technical mistake but rather a "summation shadow". A summation shadow occurs on a mammogram when several minor/insignificant densities "stack up" and produce a shadow that looks like a major/significant density. Additional views with compression serve to separate these minor densities.

Technical problems can occasionally occur, however, it is highly unusual that additional films are required due to a mistake. Motion is the most common technical reason for a repeated film, but occurs on less than 1% of patients’ films.

Why do I need to have an ultrasound exam if a mammogram is the best test for the detection of breast cancer?

Mammography is the best test for the detection of an abnormality in the breast, but it cannot show whether a lump is caused by fluid. Ultrasound can be helpful in characterizing lumps you can feel, as well as determining whether a mass seen on mammogram is solid or cystic (i.e. fluid-filled). This is very important information and helps determine whether a biopsy is necessary.

What does the category at the bottom of my letter stand for?

Category 0: A Category 0 mammogram means that the assessment is not complete and additional imaging is required. Additional imaging, including the use of spot compression, magnification, ultrasound and special mammographic views may be used to help make a more complete evaluation.

Category 1: A Category 1 mammogram means that the radiologist fond nothing abnormal in the breasts. Usually, this rating means that the results were "negative."

Category 2: A Category 2 mammogram signifies that the breasts are normal, but that the radiologist has viewed benign conditions, such as calcifications, calcified fibroadenomas or intramammary lymph nodes.

Category 3: A Category 3 mammogram indicates that there is an abnormality in the breast that is probably benign, but which the doctor nonetheless believes needs to be monitored. Follow-up mammograms usually are repeated every 6 months for a year, and then annually. By keeping a watchful eye on following mammograms, a doctor can track the abnormality for any changes which could indicate cancer. A Category 3 requires diligent monitoring, without having to subject a patient to a biopsy. However, surgical consults are offered to all patients with a Category 3 finding.

Category 4 or 5: A Category 4 or 5 mammogram means that the radiologist recommends that a biopsy be performed. Although this classification does not necessarily mean that there is a malignancy, the result does imply that there is significant suspicion, and patients are encouraged to schedule a consult with one or our surgeons.

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