What do I do when I have an abnormal mammogram?

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Mammograms, along with a healthy lifestyle, regular breast examination, and ultrasound, can help you and your doctors to become aware of what’s going on deep in the tissue of your breast.  Many women dislike mammograms and it’s hardly surprising. Since puberty, most of us have been protecting, covering and supporting our breasts, and the self-consciousness of youth often re-emerges when we submit to unceremonious uncovering and squashing from different angles! However, radiographers in today’s hospitals and clinics have specialised post-graduate mammography training, and they know how to help you relax as they expertly scan your breasts including the “tail” of breast tissue that lies under the armpit. If the radiographer sees something untoward, she will take care not to stress you but will explain that there is something on the mammogram that’s not clear, and which requires more attention. It’s likely that a further examination will follow, using ultrasound which can show up tissue abnormalities that might not be easily seen on the the mammogram. She will then call in a radiologist, who is a medical specialist in the field of hi-tech imagery, for an opinion. There is nothing much to be done in this situation but keep breathing deeply and calmly… Remember that mammography, if undertaken as a routine part of your normal health care, is a method of surveillance – keeping watch. Although obviously everyone hopes for an “all clear” every time, breast tissue is complex, often dense; and there are many aspects that change over time. Most changes are harmless, but there would be little point in going to the trouble of a mammogram if we don’t take advantage of the specialist opinion that’s available along with the procedure. At one end of the spectrum of concern the radiologist might note a change which is obviously harmless (such as small areas of calcium deposit that are common as we get older), or perhaps a larger benign growth which has been noted on an earlier mammogram and shows no sign of unhealthy change. At the other end of the spectrum, a mammogram will occasionally reveal a very obvious cancer spot – and this is precisely why we went there, to take charge of that possibility. In between these extremes, there is a range of “doubtful” lumps and bumps which may be uncertain because of their shape or position, or perhaps because there is no track record from previous mammograms to confirm that they’re harmless. Your age and previous mammography relevant: if you are 50+ and an abnormality is seen for the first time, you will be advised to take further action, but the same finding in a younger patient might merely be noted for future reference. The...

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Dr Linda Whitelock-Jones

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Dr Linda Whitelock-Jones MBChB (UCT) FCS.SA MMed Surg Linda is a surgeon practising in Port Elizabeth with a regular clinic in Jeffrey’s Bay. She has a special interest in medically indicated breast surgery (including reconstructions) and management of burn injuries. Her consulting rooms are at 5 How Avenue, Centrahil, Port Elizabeth and you can contact her on 041 450 0196 or by email Linda (dot) Whitelock-Jones (at) breastsurgeonpe (dot) com. Linda is married with two children and lives in Port Elizabeth. Read Posts by Linda...

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