The Dreaded Mammogram Call Back

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN

I started breast cancer awareness month off with a smush, getting my annual mammogram. Everything went smoothly until I got the call every woman dreads. The “we just need to take a few more pictures, can you come back” call. Now, I know better than to get nervous. I know the statistics – some 90% of callbacks turn out to be nothing. Luckily, my return visit was only a few days after, so not much time to over think it. Then I got there.

Enter the mammography waiting area in October and you are surrounded by pink ribbons- you can’t help but think about the reason we do these tests and the possibilities of these additional pictures finding something more.

I am escorted to the worried waiting room- oh, I mean the “diagnostic” waiting room. You see, the gals getting potential problems evaluated are segregated from the common folk. Looking around I see nothing but worry on the faces of my co-waiters. I can’t help but start to worry a little myself.

I’m called to the mammogram room where the kind technician gets me set up for the pictures. Seems there are more ways to take a boob picture than I ever knew. As I am hugging the cold machine I look over at the control panel and see my troublesome digital pictures on the screen. There is my breast with a white circle surrounding the area of concern. Seeing it like this gives me a sudden pang of fear – but come on Carolyn, you know you shouldn’t worry until you have something to worry about! But how can you help it? The odds are overwhelmingly in my favor – remember the 90% number – but we have been trained to live in fear. I am a victim of the pink ribbon culture.

The constant pink ribbon in your face (there were ribbons on my eggs this morning!) has become a fad and has created an environment of unfounded fear. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great that women don’t hide breast cancer, that we get our mammograms and that we support our friends and family who fight this disease. But this pink culture has watered down what it means to support our friends and family – wearing a pink ribbon really doesn’t HELP someone – running an errand for them, cooking a meal or just giving them an ear to talk to does. And at the same time we are fed some unrealistic fears that we are all destined to get our own breast cancer diagnosis.

So, if you ever get that dreaded call back, here are the facts:

  • 90% of call backs will be given the all clear with additional mammogram pictures and, in some cases, an ultrasound.
  • If the call back results in the need for a biopsy, know that 4 out of 5 biopsies are negative for cancer.
  • The odds are in your favor, and you should not worry until you have something to worry about. I know, easier said than done.

I waited patiently in the worried waiting room until the radiologist appeared and called me out to the hall. She smiled and said, “everything is ok, it was just some glandular tissue. We’ll see you next year”.

If I get called back next year, I hope I can heed my own advice.