Breast Cancer Learning Center

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Breast Cancer

Contemplative girlEvery time the phone rings or you open the mailbox after your mammogram, you wonder if this is the day you’ll find out the results of your test. You wait and hope to hear the “all clear” from your doctor.

Getting a negative test result, meaning you had a normal test, allows life to continue as it did before. Getting a positive test result signifies further testing, further waiting, and possibly life-altering events.

For most people, the odds of getting breast cancer remain low. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that 12 percent of women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes. The rate for breast cancer in men is 1 in 1000.  As of 2008, United States breast cancer survivors numbered more than 2.6 million, which includes those under treatment and those who had completed treatment.

How to Cope with the Wait

Some women ask a friend to be on standby in the event of bad news. Maintaining your normal routine can also mitigate feelings of nervousness and anxiety over the unknown outcome.

As you wait for mammogram results, keep in mind all the pap smears you’ve had over the years. Although the principal function of a pap smear is to test for cervical cancer cells, you probably don’t anxiously wait by the phone for results. It’s just a routine part of health maintenance. Try to talk yourself into thinking of the mammogram in the same way.

What Comes After a Positive Result?

In the case of an abnormal or positive result, the most common next step is a breast biopsy. Remember, the vast majority of biopsies don’t result in a breast cancer diagnosis. According to the ACS, only 2 to 4 of 1000 mammograms result in a diagnosis of breast cancer.

There are currently three types of biopsies performed in the United States. Two involve needle insertions and the other is a surgical procedure. Both needle biopsies involve the use of a local anesthetic and leave only a pin-point insertion site, which is covered easily by a bandage. The surgical biopsy often involves a general anesthesia that puts you to sleep and results in a small cut that’s closed with stitches.

Recovery time for a needle biopsy is immediate, while a surgical biopsy could take a few hours. A doctor can perform a needle biopsy in their office, whereas the surgical type takes place in a hospital or an outpatient clinic.

Needle biopsies require significantly less procedure time, with most lasting approximately 30 minutes to an hour. Surgical biopsy could take up to two hours.

Preparing for your Biopsy Appointment

Reach out to your network of family and friends for help emotionally weathering the biopsy appointment and procedure. You'll probably find women who have had similar experiences and can help ease your fears and nervousness by describing their experiences.

Talk to your doctor about your fears and concerns regarding the biopsy. Write questions down in advance of your appointment or a phone conversation with your doctor. On the day of your scheduled biopsy, take a friend or family member with you for emotional support. Don’t forget that you have a network of healthcare professionals at your disposal to walk you through the process and advise you on your next steps.

No matter the results, you should be proud of yourself for taking proactive steps in managing your health. Scheduling a mammogram is a scary, but necessary part of looking after yourself as a woman. Just booking the appointment makes you courageous

Content licensed from:

Written by: Gloria Attar, RN
Published on Oct 19, 2012
Updated on Mar 22, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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