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You will be given the results of your tests by a doctor at the assessment clinic.
The tests may find that there is no problem with the breast tissue. This means that the first mammogram showed evidence of a potential abnormal area in the breast, but further tests did not find a problem. In this situation, the first mammogram is said to have had a false-positive result. You will not need to have any further tests or treatment and can go back to the screening unit for a routine mammogram in three years' time.
Many false-positive results are due to tiny deposits of calcium in the milk ducts, known as microcalcification. Microcalcification occurs in many women over the age of 50. It may occur when cancer is present, but in most women just happens without there being a breast cancer or any other breast problem. We have further information about breast calcifications|.
Most women will be told that they do not have cancer, but have a benign (non-cancerous) condition. Many benign conditions of the breast can be seen on a mammogram. If you have a benign condition, you may be referred to a hospital breast care specialist for advice and any necessary monitoring or treatment.
This happens very rarely. It means that no definitive diagnosis can be made after assessment. In this situation a biopsy| may be recommended or you may be invited for early recall, which means that you will have another invitation for a mammogram in 12 months.
Only about 7 in every 1,000 women who have breast screening will be diagnosed with breast cancer. If your tests show that you have breast cancer|, you will be referred to a consultant surgeon or a cancer specialist (a medical oncologist) at a cancer treatment hospital. You may have a range of emotions including shock, anxiety and fear. You will be able to talk to a breast care nurse who can help to support you and your family.
Our section on the emotional effects of cancer| discusses the feelings that you may have. It gives advice on how to deal with your emotions and has details of sources of support.
The consultant surgeon or medical oncologist will be able to discuss the treatment with you. Sometimes you may be offered a choice of treatments and it is important to consider the benefits, risks and disadvantages of each carefully before deciding which treatment is best for you.
You can discuss your treatment with the breast care nurse. Our cancer support specialists| can also give you information about the different treatment options.
Treatment for breast cancer usually involves some type of surgery|: a lumpectomy where just the lump and a small amount of surrounding tissue is removed, or a mastectomy where the whole breast is removed.
Surgery is likely to be followed by radiotherapy|, chemotherapy|, hormonal therapy| (such as tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor) or a biological therapy (such as Herceptin®). Sometimes a combination of these treatments is given.
The treatment may take a few months. In women who attend breast screening the cancer is likely to be found early, when the chance of being cured is high. Over two-thirds of the cancers found during breast screening are small enough to be removed with lumpectomy, rather than needing a mastectomy.
Our section on breast cancer gives information about breast cancer, its treatment and coping with cancer.
Your tests may have shown a condition known as DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). One in every thousand women who attend a breast screening is diagnosed with DCIS. This is when the breast cancer cells are completely contained within the breast (milk) ducts and have not spread into the surrounding breast tissue. DCIS may also be referred to as non-invasive or intraductal cancer. Most women with DCIS have no signs or symptoms so it is mostly found through breast screening.
The DCIS usually shows up on a mammogram as an area in which calcium has been deposited in the milk ducts (microcalcification). A small number of women with DCIS may have symptoms such as a breast lump or discharge from the nipple.
If DCIS is left untreated it may, over a period of years, begin to spread into (invade) the breast tissue surrounding the milk ducts. It is then known as invasive breast cancer. Some areas of DCIS will never develop into invasive breast cancer even if no treatment is given. However, treatment is usually given for DCIS because it’s not currently possible to tell which areas of DCIS will definitely develop into an invasive cancer.
Treatment almost always cures DCIS. If you have DCIS you will be referred to a breast surgeon or cancer specialist (oncologist). It is important to discuss with them the benefits and possible side effects of any treatment in your particular case.
The main treatment for DCIS is surgery. The surgeon removes all of the DCIS along with an area (margin) of normal looking tissue surrounding it. This is known as a wide local excision. Some women are given radiotherapy after a wide local excision. Removing the whole breast (mastectomy) is usually only advised if DCIS is large or affects more than one area of the breast. Breast reconstruction (making a new breast shape) can be done at the same time or later.
A long-term study, called the Sloane Project, is being carried out to improve the care and treatment for women with DCIS found during the breast screening programme. The study, which is supported by the NHS Breast Screening Programme, aims to get good quality information about DCIS and to find out the best treatment for this condition.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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