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Annual mammograms offer a little peace of mind

Yearly mammograms are recommended starting 40. | File Photo

Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at 40. | File Photo

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Updated: March 7, 2013 6:31AM



A day or two after your screening mammogram, you receive the dreaded phone call: You need additional testing. Does this mean you have breast cancer?

Possibly, although the odds are against it, said Neda Zelehovitis, certified breast health nurse at the Silver Cross Center for Women’s Health in New Lenox.

When a woman has a screening mammogram, the technician takes two pictures of each breast and compares them to her previous mammogram. If the technician sees any change, she will be asked to return for additional pictures, Zelehovitis said.

The Silver Cross Center for Women’s Health calls back about 14 women each week, she said.

“Many people get nervous when they’re asked to come in again, especially if they have a family history of breast cancer or know someone that went through it,” Zelehovitis said. “They worry that the technician didn’t take the right pictures, but that has nothing to do with it. The radiologist might see something and want a better picture. Most of the time, the women come in, get their pictures and go home.”

The two most common reasons for callbacks are density spots and calcifications.

Many times, those dense areas disappear if the breast is compressed harder and extra pictures are taken in different positions. If the dense areas remain, the woman will immediately have an ultrasound.

Determining the significance of calcifications may require a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy.

Calcifications, which resemble salt sprinkled on black paper, Zelehovitis said, are almost always benign and are often nothing more than dead cells.

“All women have calcifications,” Zelehovitis said. “Some women have more of them than others.”

The reason calcifications can be concerning is that certain sizes and shapes may indicate breast cancer and signal the need for additional pictures.

In addition to diagnostic mammograms, ultrasound is a very useful tool to help clarify suspicious mammograms.

“It can show if a cyst is solid, has fluid inside it or has blood supply to it,” Zelehovitis said. “It can also show if it has rounded edges or an irregular shape.

If it’s just a cyst, we can let it go or we can decide whether to watch it or biopsy it. If a pre-existing cyst has grown or changed shape, we biopsy it.”

Even when a biopsy becomes necessary, the odds are still good the result will pronounce the cyst as benign. For every four biopsies performed, generally only one tests positive for cancer, Zelehovitis said.



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