Abnormal mammograms

By Andrew McNulty

When you have a mammogram the last thing you want to hear is the results are abnormal. However, if that is the outcome, what happens next? Knowing what you could be facing may help you through a stressful time.

Being told your mammogram shows something abnormal is scary, but it does not neccessarily mean you've got breast cancer.

Nine out of every 10 lumps found are benign and could be due to a variety of factors, such as a cyst or an area of thicker breast tissue.

However, if something a bit suspicious is revealed by the mammogram it will need to be investigated further.


An ultrasound is often used as a screening tool and can distinguish fluid-filled cysts from solid lumps. It may also show whether solid lumps are likely to be benign, malignant or indeterminate. Like the ones during pregnancy, ultrasounds are quick, painless and don't involve any radiation. They may also be used to guide needles to the right spot in other tests.

Fine-needle aspiration

A very thin needle is inserted into the lump or the abnormal area of the breast and any fluid is removed to be tested. It's done under a local anaesthetic, usually in your doctor's surgery or a radiology clinic, and any pain tends to be very mild, like having a blood test.

Core-needle biopsy

A slightly bigger needle is used to remove tissue for analysis. It may be inserted up to six times to get a selection of tissue. This is done under local anaesthetic and you shouldn't need stitches, just a small dressing over the entry site.

Stereotactic needle

Your mammogram may show up small spots in your breast known as calcifications. These are normally benign, but they could also be an early sign of cancer. Your doctor may choose to remove them and tissue around them using a special needle called a stereotactic needle. This test is done under local anaesthetic and can take a few hours. You may need someone to drive you home.

open biopsy

A surgeon will cut out the lump or part of it and the procedure will be carried out in a hospital or day clinic, usually under general anaesthetic or, in some cases, a local anaesthetic with a sedative. You'll have stitches and a sterile dressing and may need to stay overnight.

Hookwire biopsy

This procedure is used when the surgeon needs to remove a lump that has shown up on a mammogram but can't be felt. They use the mammogram machine or ultrasound to see where the problem is, then they'll insert a wire with a hook to mark the area. This is done under local anaesthetic. The lump may then be removed using an open biopsy under general anaesthetic and the tissue will then be sent to the laboratory for testing.

Health watch

  • Women who use coil or IUCD contraceptive devices may cut their chances of getting cervical cancer by half. Spanish scientists say it seems while they don't stop women from getting the human papilloma virus that can lead to this type of cancer, these devices can protect against your cells becoming cancerous. This may be because the devices cause inflammation and this prompt an autoimmune response which stops any infection progressing to cancer.
  • If your man is having problems in bed, maybe suggest he gets his heart checked out. A Chinese study found a link between erectile dysfunction, heart disease and stroke. one theory is arteries supplying the penis with blood during erections may clog up sooner than the larger one in the heart, providing a warning of possible artery disease.

read more from