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.

Addendum: There have been a few comments about the results and BI-RADS categories. You may find this article helpful in explaining what they mean.

50 thoughts on “The Dreaded Mammogram Call Back

  1. I just got a call back from a mammogram for “more pictures”. I am terrified. This article actually made me laugh “the worried waiting room”. Thank you for that.

  2. I just got the “call back”- which for some dumb reason I feel like I was almost expecting? But this article made me relax (a tiny bit) So now I wait…

  3. I went for my annual screening 2 weeks ago and 1 week ago received a message from my doctor’s office wanting to know if I had set up my ultrasound yet? My response was “I did not know I needed an ultrasound.” I am a nurse and actually use to work for my doctor so I asked for my results to be emailed to me. My results show just some scattered areas of fibroglandular densities and the area of concern is an “irregular” focal asymmetry. Now as a nurse I know the statistics for call backs and the results. But I also know that irregular is not good. So for the past week I have worried, not worried telling myself it is just probably some dense tissue or cyst and back to worrying again. My ultrasound is not scheduled until next week. Which has given me more time to go from one way of thinking about it to another.

  4. I got the call back on Thursday. I go in tomorrow. Of course, I am researching which led me to your article. Thank you. Although, I know it is going to be found fine time is moving very slow. You have given me reassurance needed.

  5. I just got my call back this morning. I go tomorrow for the ultrasound. I know I have a fibroadenoma in my right breast that has been watched on and off. I know it’s probably nothing, I’ve been through this before. But I still can’t help but worry. Your article relaxed me the tiniest bit. But we all know it’s hard.

  6. Had my routine 3D screening October 16, got called back same afternoon. They couldn’t fit me in for diagnostic and ultrasound until October 30. Having had a mastectomy for DCIS on the right side in 2017, I had full confidence that my “good girl” on the left wouldn’t give me any trouble, as it never has. Making myself sick with the “what if’s”. I keep returning to this article, which helps a little–thanks!

  7. I am with Rhetta. As a cancer survivor, lumpectomy A1 Braca negative, Onco-score 9, I am shaking when I even go for the test. Last year, I got a call back and had to wait a WEEK. I was on the ledge, my primary care said “from the result, I think it was the way they did the film” AND it was, but Rhetta and I know what is “entailed” with surgery and the horrible 5 year drug we are on. Good article, but hard to take its advice.

  8. My wife is in with the techs, texting me the play by play as I’m waiting in the lobby. I read on the door “patients only”. I pull up the hospitals Wi-fi searching sites that resemble our situation. I read the facts and odds but still have zero comfort that those overwhelming odds have a chance of lousy news. I say a silent prayer and cross my fingers and wait, and wait, still no answer… so then I panic as no news at this point isn’t good news. She’s there all alone and I can’t do anything. I silently wipe a tear as I don’t know how to deal. Is she ok, is she hearing the crazy news she’s been stressing over for the past two weeks. I’m not a weeper but as I write I find myself loosing it. I suppose I don’t tell her enough how much she means to me. I’m writing and look up and she’s standing there with a big grin. The shadow the size of a quarter wasn’t what they thought it could be. She’s got a clean bill of health. She looks at me and says our term of endearment “idiot” why are you crying. I hug her and shake my head. “I love you babe”. And we go on our merry ways. What an ordeal. They need a pill for guys like me.

    1. Wonderful your wife got a clean bill of health , I loved your comments an wanted to tell you it lifted my spirits.

  9. Thank all of you for your notes regarding that dreaded call back. Facing the same, but having to wait till Monday after Thanksgiving feels like eternity. Being 66 is not in my favor. Being a nurse is sometimes not a good thing. Thank you for honesty and realize I am not alone.

  10. Thank you! I just got the callback today on my 50th birthday ! I’ve never had a callback before and I just needed some reassurance!

  11. I just got the dreaded call back. My mother and sister have both had breast cancer. Fortunately for me I go back Friday. Do they usually tell you right away? If you need a biopsy is it done there or by your Dr.? Prayers for anyone waiting…..

    1. I too just got the “call back” after waiting 11 days for mammogram results. This is the 3rd time I’ve had the “call back” and it scares the heck out of me again. I was told had to wait until Dec. 11 for re-imaging but as I was transferred back & forth, they got me in this Monday. Gee, only have to wait 4 days to go. I lost my husband to cancer 4 years ago so of course I’m freaking out. I don’t feel so alone with so many others that go through this. I hope we are all okay.

  12. I had my mammogram on Tuesday Nov 12. Got the dreaded phone call yesterday. They have found a nodule on the left breast that was not there my last mammogram. I go tomorrow for a diagnostic mammogram and an ultra sound. It scares me they are moving so fast but I am also happy they are moving so fast. I feel great other than having small bouts of having trouble taking deep breaths. I thought my breathing issues was anxiety but now I wonder if it is from another reason. I know I keep thinking of all the little aches and pains I have had in the past, which is doing me no good. I am just very thankful that I don’t have to wait long.

    1. I had a mammogram on the Nov 29th got a call back for a mammogram and ultrasound on the 25th got a call from my doctor today need to do a biopsy..I am so scared the look on the radiology face o the call back and I the in-depth gave me the gut feeling something may be wrong..see the face on my doctor for the result scared me too just happen to be researching and came across your website…I am now waiting to get a biopsy done ..the wait is killing me now

  13. Thank you for this post! I had my annual screening on the 14th, two days after finishing 10 years of Tamoxifen, of which I missed only one pill, due to a surgery. I received the call back the next morning. Yes, I am panicked, I can’t help it. I am scheduled for the 20th, with a possible ultrasound, based on results. I am hoping and praying it is nothing serious. My husband is definitely feeling the anxiety as well, much like “Mark” in the previous post. Mark thank you for sharing your story and the results. My hubby and I are very encouraged for the best!

    1. Here is my update! Good news, no cancer! I went back for the callback, got the mammogram which led to an ultrasound revealing a black grey spot. The physician said it could be a cyst but needed to verified what it was. So he went in to see if it was fluid-filled with the potential of a biopsy. Sure enough, it was a cyst and no biopsy was needed. The fluid came out clean with no blood, so I only need an annual mammogram unless I fine something with self-examination. The hold time felt like a very close call, but boy oh boy I am relieved. Bless you, all, and remember the benefits of early detection, keeps getting better as medical technology advances. Hugs!

      1. Great news Dawn!! Mammogram isn’t a great test due to all these false scares, but it is the best we have for early detection. And yes, the technology has improved over the years and research continues to look for better ways to detect problems early.

  14. Well…I guess I’m now an official member of the “dreaded call back” group…got mine today. My mammogram was this past Thursday. It’s amazing how the mind works once you get “that” call. I knew what number to look for on my phone and sure enough, there it was. I froze but knew I had to answer. It just seems surreal right now. I’m thinking…not me…but then…why not me. Prayers for all of you waiting in limbo.

  15. Hi all I got my first mammogram on Nov 5th 2019..exactly a week to that day I got the letter to go back… An I’m there tomorrow morning at 9.30…I’m so terrified was me that chased them for my screening …I’m 52yrs an 4months …good luck to all of you ladies waiting xx

  16. I got the call today from my PCP telling me they were setting up an ultrasound. It’s the weekend, so I know this call to do this test will most likely be scheduled sometime next week. Anyway, I’ve had cyst before and it even went to the point of draining and biopsy. Nothing to worry about at the time. I have, however, never had a call to come back for an ultrasound. So needless to say, I’m a bit concerned, but trying to get past it and have a good weekend. Only time will tell and the good Lord who answers all of our prayers. So, it is what it is. I will await an answer and just go from there.

  17. Hi guys! I’m 54 and only got called back once: after my very first mammogram. Just got the call yesterday for this latest one. I go on Dec 9. I’m not overly worried, but my mind always go to the “what if.” This article and all of your posts have lifted me up!!

    1. I got a call back today and back Monday. I was diagnosed and had surgery for colon cancer in May. I was luck. They were able to remove the tumor. It wasn’t in any limp nodes so I had no chemo or radiation. My daughter-in-law was diagnosed with Triple Negative breast around this time last year at 34. After chemo, double mastectomy, and radiation she is in remission. I’m pretty scared for sure. I’m not going to share anything with anybody now.

  18. Went for my annual mammogram Nov 28th. Received a call this morning to come in for more pictures on Dec 5th.
    I know the odds seem in my favor but my mom had breast cancer when she was 40, had one breast removed
    and lived to 93. My sister at age 72 was diagnosed with ovarian cancer Aug 2015 and passed on 7 months later after
    an awful battle.
    Even with this, I will ‘purposely’ think positive ….. and trust in my lord to walk with me on either path.

  19. Had my mammogram on 11/25. Received the call back notice on Saturday, 11/30. Got a little run around yesterday when I called to schedule the ultrasound, but the figured it out, and I go in tomorrow, 12/4. Googling and reading, somewhat comforted by the statistics. But for a woman over 60, who consumed alcohol daily (just passed 3 months sober) the statistics aren’t quite as good. We joke that ‘worry’ is my middle name…I will be happy when the appointment is over tomorrow…and I get confirmation that everything is fine. 🤞🏻🙏🏻🤞🏻🙏🏻

  20. I had my annual mammogram on November 27. I received a call this afternoon while at lunch to come in for an ultrasound. Was told my left breast shows some changes from last year (thickening). I just turned 55 end of October. This is my second time being called back. Last October I was asked to come back as my breasts showed calcifications for the first time. Everything was fine then. Hoping this time it is also.

    I also have to have an ovarian cyst removed. My previous gynecologist had been watching it. Now it’s at a size that needs to be removed. Dr. also wants to remove the ovary with it.

    I am more nervous about my breast than the cyst on my ovary as my previous doctor said my ovarian cyst is not cancer.

  21. I got my first 3D mammogram two days ago. I’ve been having pain along with other symptoms in my left breast. Today I get a call to go back and get another mammogram plus an ultrasound. They say there’s one specific area they need to look at. I’m trying not to freak out but with my symptoms and the call back, it’s difficult. I’m scheduled to go back on Christmas eve. I’m on a cancelation list so hopefully I can get in sooner!!

    1. I’ve been getting 3D mammograms for several years now. I just had it done on Friday Dec 6th. My husband & I went on a trip on Monday and had just checked into our hotel on when I got my first ever call back. I’m going in the 16th for a diagnostic mammogram & an MRI and I’m terrified!!! Reading all of your comments has sure helped. I’m praying for all of us to get positive results! Bless you all!

  22. I have been reading on call backs for more imaging since I got mine last Wednesday, just 4 days after my mammogram. When I found this page of is like reading my own thoughts. I am 46. My Mum was 47 when she was diagnosed and fought for 15 years but it came back and we lost her. My appointment for another mammogram and ultrasound is tomorrow and I can not sleep. My husband died 11 years ago and I am terrified to leave my daughters and my granddaughter. Ugh this is limbo hell

  23. I have been called back five times. I have had several biopsies which comes back negative every time. I average about every three years a “call back”. It doesn’t even bother me any more. They have been trying to find something in my breast now for 15 years! I sometimes wonder if it isn’t so the insurance can make more money!
    Wish me luck!

  24. I’m 45 and got my callback 2 days ago. Haven’t had a mamo in 3 years so having my last films sent over for comparison. They found an 8mm mass in my right breast in the same spot I had a cyst about 9 years ago. Now, my head is telling me not to worry but I’m absolutely freaking out. I can’t eat, I have nightmares, I feel sick at my stomach. Why can’t I snap out of this?

  25. Got my first ever call back this afternoon to do a 3D mammogram and ultrasound on left breast. I am scared to death and the soonest is a week from today! No family history but I’ve had some odd pain in that breast the last couple months at times. I’m trying to keep myself together but how do you not worry!

  26. 3 days after my mamo I got the call back. They want more pictures, apparently compared to the first one I did 2 years ago it’s asymmetrical. I got a call on Dec 31, to book not only a repeat mammogram but also an ultrasound. What???? I’m scared. The person on the phone said lots of people get called and they just want to be extra sure so they are adding the ultrasound. I go on January 23rd So difficult to stop thinking about it

    1. Mercedes, I know it is so anxiety-provoking. They do usually plan for the US just in case, but often don’t even need it once they see the second mammo pictures. And when the time comes, for most women who have the ultrasound, nothing is found. Just lots of anxiety-producing moments! It may be worth calling back to see if you can come sooner so you don’t have to worry so long. 2 weeks+ seems like a long time to wait and not really fair to you!

      1. Thank-you for your support Carolyn. Trying to stay positive, but my mind keeps running in circles. I couldn’t get an earlier appointment, I’ll be doing the tests in 3 days and I’ll keep you posted on the results. In the past when my doctor would do manual breast exams on me she would always tell me I have a lot of fibrous tissue. Hoping that’s what will show in these additional tests.

        1. My results are in after the call-back. What a crazy day it was yesterday. I did a 3D mammogram and an Ultrasound was done by the Radiology Doctor. She told me that she saw nothing worrisome, but she did find 2 small cysts and wants to repeat the mammogram and US in 6 months. I know many women have cysts and its not anything serious. Feeling grateful that I’m being closely monitored and if ever there is something that becomes worrisome, well they’ll get it at the earliest stage! Letting go of the stress, and staying positive and enjoying every day of my life 🙂

  27. Thank you for the article. I’m 48. I had my annual 3D mammo and got a call back. I go in for a diagnostic mammo and ultrasound on January 10th. This is my 2nd call back in 8 years. I was able to read the radiology report and it says architectural distortion possible spiculated mass right BI-RADS 0. Not sure what that means but it sounds scary. I’m having trouble thinking about anything else right now.

  28. Well I am not sure how not to feel anxious. I got the first call back and was suppose to have the 3D mammo and an ultra sound if the 3D showed anything. The tech comes in and says they are not going to do an ultra sound, I need to go out and tell them at the desk I need an MRI with and without contrast. I suppose I should try not to worry and I try to keep myself occuppied but I cant help but worry. I now have to wait until Jan 27th for the MRI.

  29. Just wanted to share my first mammogram came back and the borders were undifferentiated and 5 mm. Being a RN and knowing about borders I thought for sure I had cancer. My diagnostic mammogram showed the borders to be circular and a cyst. I go back in 6 months to check on the cyst. Thanks for the blog.

  30. I had a mammogram one time when I was 23, I had just had a baby and had gotten an MRI and they found a lump in my breast so recommended that I go in for a mammogram, I did and it ended up being nothing, just a clogged milk duct. I turned 40 in August and received a call from the Breast Care Center last week stating that my dr had put in a referral for my mammogram in light of me turning 40. Therefore, I went on Friday for a 3D exam and within 3 hours had a letter by email stating that there was a finding and I need to go back in for more testing. My heart sank, never expected news like that. First thing yesterday morning they called and said I need to come in for an ultrasound, when I asked what was going on she said they would explain everything when I come in. The soonest they could get me in was this Friday so I have 2 more days. I am nervous! I was researching when I found your article. Trying so hard not to let my anxiety get the best of me and this article helped. Wish me luck!

  31. We should start a “call back” page on Facebook. Had my first 3-D mammogram on Friday, 1/10/20 and received the callback yesterday. I go tomorrow for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. The girl said since my last mammogram was in 2016 there have been some changes. Like the rest of you, I’m trying not to panic, but it is very difficult. My sister survived breast cancer 10 years ago.

  32. The radiologist asked for more images and sent me for an ultra sound of my lymph nodes which were all clear. They also scheduled a biopsy before I left. I’m trying not to worry but I don’t think that’s possible. My mom had bc at 65 and I’m same age now. I’m hoping they’re just being cautious. It feels better to put it in writing…thanks for listening.

  33. I’m wishing you positive results, Arleen. Even though it’s hard, try not to worry. I go tomorrow for more images after my call-back last Thursday. So, I feel your stress, but we’ve got this!! Good luck to YOU!

  34. I had my first 3D Mammogram mid Jan…right after my 55th Bday. I got the call back 2 wks later for another Mammogram and Ultrasound…but they couldn’t get me in until Feb. 11th, which had made for a 2 wk wait. My last Mammo was 2D 3 1/2 yrs ago and was at a different hospital..and I have dense fibrous tissue and calcifications so I’m praying it was just the difference between 2 types of Mammograms and slight changes over 3 yrs from perimenopause to menopause as of last year. I don’t smoke and no family history of bc that I know of. But I’m still terrified! Thank you for all the does help!

  35. I had my 3D mammogram on 2/6 and just got a call back from my doctor that it came back as “2 probable cysts in right breast so need to have ultra sound to verify” It’s Friday so I don’t when my ultra sound will be. I’m a wreck because my mom had breast cancer at 47. Trying to stay positive.

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