Don't Neglect Mammograms out of Fear

Non-Cancerous Abnormalities Mammography Can Detect

Abnormalities that mammography imaging detects aren't always cancerous tumors. Abnormal results often have a completely benign cause. Benign growths normally look round and smooth on a mammogram; cancerous tumors usually have an irregular shape. Although mammograms at clinics such as Radiology Affiliates Imaging detect breast changes that don't look normal, the changes may not necessarily be a sign of breast cancer. Following are some benign abnormalities in breast tissue that mammograms can show.

Breast Cysts

While most breast lumps are non-cancerous, you should report any changes you notice in your breasts to your doctor. Some women develop cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in one or both breasts. Although cysts can vary in size, cysts that are too small for you to feel with breast self-exam may be detected during mammography.

You can have one cyst or several. Many cysts go away on their own. But if a cyst is large and painful, your doctor may decide to use a procedure known as fine-needle aspiration to drain out the fluid and collapse the cyst.

Women of any age can develop cysts, but unless you opt for hormone replacement therapy, cysts normally go away after menopause. Before menopause, the use of oral contraceptives can help reduce the chance of breast cysts recurring. However, since hormone therapy can have serious side effects, doctors generally recommend it as treatment only if the symptoms of breast cysts are severe.

Calcium Deposits

Breast calcifications that are too small for you or your doctor to feel during breast exam often are first detected on a routine screening mammogram. Although the small calcium deposits that can develop in breast tissue are usually benign, sometimes they can be a sign of early breast cancer. Macrocalcifications, which look like white spots on a mammogram, are common after menopause. Tiny calcium specks, known as microcalcifications, detected on a mammogram usually aren't cancerous, but they may need further evaluation.

If breast calcifications show up on your mammogram, your doctor may order a diagnostic mammogram of the area where the calcifications are present. Benign calcifications require no treatment. Your doctor may order a biopsy of breast tissue if calcifications are irregular in size or shape. If the biopsy determines that cancer cells are present, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue.

Fibrocystic Breast Tissue

Changes in your hormone levels during your menstrual cycle can lead to fibrocystic breast tissue. Lumps in your breasts that feel hard or rubbery may become larger and your breasts may be tender right before your period begins.

Fibrocystic breast tissue usually doesn't need to be treated, but if breast pain is too uncomfortable, taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help. While fibrocystic breasts generally don't increase your risk of breast cancer, in the most severe cases, surgical excision may be required to remove a cyst-like lump that doesn't resolve on its own or after multiple aspirations.


Fibroadenomas are solid, rubbery lumps that move freely when you push on them. They are a common type of benign tumor that can occur during a woman's reproductive years. The tumors tend to be painless and often require no treatment, as they can shrink in size or go away on their own. While most fibroadenomas don't increase your risk of breast cancer, your doctor may continue to monitor the lump for changes in size. Surgery is required to remove a fibroadenoma if a biopsy comes back abnormal or you have a complex fibroadenoma -- one that contains small cysts, calcifications, enlarged breast nodules, and papillomas (tiny growths in the milk ducts).