Don’t freak out when you get the call

At some point, every woman has a health scare. Whether it’s an abnormal pap or a call back on a mammogram, many of us have been there and it’s no fun. When you get that call, don’t freak out. Here’s why: Most of the time nothing is majorly wrong. If you Google lump in breast you will likely be bombarded with articles on breast cancer. If you get an abnormal Pap test, your mind can jump to cervical cancer, but it shouldn’t. There are lots of reasons for abnormal results and second looks. We live in a cautious medical world.

Abnormal Pap tests, what do they mean?  

Let’s start with Pap screens. What’s an abnormal pap? During a Pap test your doctor scrapes cells from your cervix and sends them to the lab to make sure they are normal and no cancer cells are present. Abnormal cells are rated for their severity. Precancerous cells, known as dysplasia, can be mild, moderate or severe (CIN 1-3, respectively). Depending on the rating, your doctor will recommend a retest in a few months, or want to perform a colposcopy to take a closer look, or opt to remove more serious cells with a biopsy. A biopsy simply means taking a larger sampling of cells.  

Did you know that you can have an abnormal Pap for a variety of reasons? A surprising one is simply because you had sex the night before. Abnormal Pap tests are also caused by infections. So tell yourself that it’s likely fine, because most likely it is—then see what your doctor recommends. 

Pap tests are recommended every three years starting at the age of 21 through age 65. Yet if you have a family history of cervical cancer, ask your doctor if you should get screened more regularly.

Call back for a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound

Have you had your first breast lump scare yet? I was in my late 30s when I had mine. I went in for my annual mammogram and was told I’d need an ultrasound. There was a lump they wanted to check out further. On film it looked like a cyst, but to be extra sure they recommended having it aspirated—that means sticking a needle, guided by ultrasound, into the cyst and draining it. I had a few worrying days of waiting for the appointment, but good news came quickly. Within minutes, the doctor said all was fine as the cyst collapsed upon itself indicating it was just fluid and there was nothing else to the gray area that showed up on the ultrasound.

Since that happened I’ve heard other women tell of the same experience. I’m here to say if this happens to you, don’t give it a moment’s worry. It will more than likely be a simple cyst or another benign, non-cancerous lump. According to WebMD, 80% of breast lumps are benign. 

The biggest maker of breast lumps is fibrocystic changes that occur in our breasts as we age.  As our hormones fluctuate lumps can form, which happens most often right before menstruation. Cysts usually go away on their own. Cysts move around when you push on them and are often tender. They also grow, shrink or disappear after your period. Cancerous tumors, on the other hand, often feel hard, may not hurt and don’t noticeably change from month to month.

In the past, women were advised to get a screening mammogram every year. Not so today. One reason recommendations changed was because mammograms often provoke additional testing on non-cancerous cysts, causing unneeded cost and concern. That means you’ve got a decision to make. While the federal guidelines suggest getting a mammo every two years starting at age 50, you should consider your own risk factors for breast cancer. There are many women who get breast cancer in their 40s, some with no family history whatsoever, so getting screened early isn’t a bad idea. Talk with your doctor and make an informed decision.