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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Understanding an Abnormal Mammogram

Writer / Dr. Betty Fan, Breast Surgical Oncologist at IU Health West Hospital
Photography Provided

Mammograms are vital to the health and longevity of you and your loved ones. Early detection of breast cancer can increase a woman’s five-year survival rate to 97%. Breast cancer is typically discovered through a mammogram or felt as a lump. If your mammogram comes back as abnormal, there are cebreast cancerrtain steps you can expect to determine your best options.

More imaging may be needed.

If a mammogram is abnormal, extra imaging may be needed. Typically a doctor will order a diagnostic mammogram if unusual changes are detected in the breast, such as a lump, breast pain, change in breast size or shape, and nipple discharge. Diagnostic mammograms will provide the radiologist with more detailed views of the breast to help determine if cancer is present. A breast ultrasound may also be used in combination with a mammogram to further work up a breast finding.

The patient may undergo additional tests.

After an abnormal mammogram, the doctor may order a breast biopsy. A biopsy is the removal and sampling of breast tissue to determine if a suspicious finding is cancer. This is most commonly performed by a needle. With a needle biopsy, a small sample of breast tissue is removed through the needle. Often a small biopsy clip may be placed to mark the area where the sample was taken in the breast, for future reference. The biopsy process should not be painful. Most doctors will use a local anesthetic to numb the area. Sometimes women may have some bruising afterwards.

Discuss your surgical options.

Should your biopsy results show cancer, you will likely require further treatment. Your breast cancer physician will work with you to identify a treatment plan that is best for you. Your physician will explain all the treatment options available for your specific diagnosis, and based on those results along with your personal preferences, will decide on a treatment plan with you. This could include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy. When to begin treatment is based on the results of your specific breast cancer, and your personal preferences. When you and your physician identify the best treatment plan, you will also decide on when to begin implementing the plan.

If you notice an abnormality in your breast, don’t wait. Discuss it with your physician right away.

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