Mammogram Call Back Anxiety: Stories to Relieve Your Fears

Years ago, I wrote this post to help other women struggling with mammogram call back anxiety. Since then, more than one hundred women have provided mammogram call back stories of their own.

If a mammogram call back has left you feeling anxious or afraid, I encourage you to read this post and the comments below.

More than one hundred women have returned to this post to let me know their mammogram call back results were all clear.

I don’t know what your follow-up scans will reveal, but I believe you will find hope and encouragement here.

My Story

I walked into that examination room and up to the 3D mammogram machine without the tiniest bit of nervous energy. I chatted with the technician as she performed the test. She was a nice older woman who told me she loved her job and performed more mammograms than she could count in a day.

When the test was over, I thanked that smiling tech, put my bra and shirt back on, and cheerfully went about the rest of my day. I never thought I’d be back in that same exam room for a follow up mammogram.

I didn’t expect a call back mammogram on the same day of my exam, because I didn’t think the exam would reveal a problem.

Mammogram Call Back Same Day

So when my cell phone began vibrating on the table beside me I glanced down at the screen, but didn’t think much of it. I didn’t recognize the number, so I choose to ignore it. I flipped the phone over and returned to the game of Monopoly Junior I was playing with my four-year-old.

If the caller ID doesn’t show one of four numbers (my husband’s cell phone, my parent’s house, or one of my children’s schools), I assume someone is trying to sell me something. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

At that moment, it didn’t occur to me that the radiologist might’ve found a suspicious area during my annual cancer screening. It didn’t dawn on me that this was a call I didn’t want to miss.

The Dreaded Mammogram Call Back

Mammogram call back anxiety
Mammogram call back anxiety.

Later that day, a bright red #4 appeared on the phone icon on my cell. I clicked on it and found two missed calls and two voice mails waiting for me.

I fully expected them to be SPAM. The first was a young woman offering to lower my debts. Yup, SPAM, just like I thought it would be, but the second message was not the robotic voice I expected to hear.

“This is the radiology department…,” the kind, melodic voice said. My heart started to race, and I immediately took a seat.

I restarted the message from the beginning. “This is the radiology department. Please call us regarding your recent mammogram,” the voice said.

Then the caller provided the call back number, a string of digits I couldn’t write down as quickly as she recited them. I returned to the beginning of the message over and over. By the fourth time, I’d gathered them all.

Before I called the radiology department, I tried to settle myself. I wasn’t prepared for the dreaded mammogram call back that morning. Who would be?

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that no one in my family has ever had breast cancer. Then I slowly and carefully dialed the number as though I was entering secret, nuclear launch codes. I paused after I pushed each button on the phone.

I Had a 3D Mammogram and They Called Me Back

The kind receptionist can’t provide many details. “I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you what they see, only that you need to come back in for a follow up mammogram and ultrasound. The doctor requires additional imaging. Would you like to schedule that now,” she asks?

“Yes,” I say without a moment of hesitation. “That will cost $371,” the receptionist says. “Fine, fine,” I tell her as if money matters at all at this moment.

“Okay,” she says. “You are scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, but on the day of your appointment you’ll need a referral.”

I hang up the phone and immediately call my gynecologist. Of course, the nurse isn’t at her desk, so I leave a message. Slowly, I state my name. Then I spell it twice and repeat my phone number three times.

I want the gynecologist’s staff to call me back immediately, so I make damn sure they know who I am and which number to call.

I Am Waiting for Mammogram Results, and I’m Terrified

As I wait the world keeps on spinning. I wait for mammogram results that might change everything, and I’m terrified. It’s normal to feel anxiety waiting for mammogram results, but I can’t put my mind at ease.

I sit in my basement, watching my four-year-old race marbles. After each race, my son walks over and shows me the marble that won. I fight back my tears as I watch him and wait for the phone to ring.

Two hours later, the nurse calls back. “You were next on my list of patients to call,” she says, sounding surprisingly chipper. “Let me pull up your mammogram report and read it to you.”

Architectural Distortion Scared Anxiety

“There is a focus of architectural distortion in the left breast,” she says, “and suspicious microcalcifications.”

I’m immediately scared and anxious. My mind swirls with frightening thoughts.

“They want you to repeat the test with a follow up mammogram. This often occurs after an abnormal finding is found during your annual cancer screening. The technicians will get a closer look and then perform an ultrasound. The doctor already took a look at your results. He thinks it’s a good idea to get retested. I’ll send in the referral for you.”

That’s it. The nurse hangs up the phone. She can’t provide any other information. A minute passes, and the phone rings again. It’s the nurse calling back, “Oh, sorry,” she says. “I misread the report. It says it’s NOT suspicious. I thought you would like to know that.”

There is a HUGE difference between suspicious and not suspicious. I’ve never been so grateful to hear the word NOT used in a sentence before. At least now, I’m only dealing with one abnormal finding on my mammogram report.

Dr. Google

mammogram call back stories

I take a deep breath, one of those deep, deep breaths where it feels like your lungs sucked in all of the air around you.

Then I pull out my laptop and immediately consult Dr. Google. I have so many unanswered questions.

  • How often do people get called back for a follow up mammogram?
  • How often are forty-year-olds diagnosed with cancer?
  • Where in the breast is cancer typically found?

I find the answers:

  • Did you know that breast cancer occurs most often on the left side of the body?
  • Or that 50 percent of malignant lumps appear in the breast’s upper, outer quadrant, extending into the armpit, where tissue is thicker than elsewhere?
  • Did you know that younger women tend to get more aggressive cancers and have a lower chance of survival?

No? I didn’t know any of it either.

The tissue in question is on my left side, in the upper quadrant, and I am younger than fifty, so I’m batting three for three.

Mammogram Call Back Fear and Anxiety

This isn’t my first medical crisis. I’ve faced medical traumas in the past. I nearly died of a pulmonary embolism at age twenty-seven, but this time it’s different. An embolism occurs quickly. You don’t have time to worry about it. You barely have time to get to the hospital. Breast cancer is not like an embolism. It’s drawn out and painful, plus this time I have kids.

I am anxious and terrified. Having kids changes everything. I look down at my four-year-old and feel hot tears pouring down on my cheeks. I put down the laptop and snuggle my little one into my lap. The tears drip onto his face, and he looks up and asks why I’m crying.

“I just love you,” I tell him because it’s true.

The Facts: Architectural Distortion

Later that night, I decide to search Google again. This time I’m armed with specific questions about architectural distortion. I’m terrified. I mean, scared right down to the bone. I feel my hands shaking as I type words into my computer. Can I overcome anxiety as it rushes over me?

I’ve received questionable results from blood tests in the past, but I’ve never felt this frightened before. Every website tells me architectural distortion is the third most common sign of cancer and that the most aggressive types of cancer are often discovered this way.

I promise myself I can only search the Internet for a few more minutes. I’ll drive myself crazy if I keep reading about breast cancer. I search one more time and come across an article published in May of 2019 by Moose and Doc.

It says, “Breast cancer commonly causes architectural distortion.” It also says, “Architectural distortion uncommonly indicates cancer. More common is for architectural distortion to be ‘imaginary’ in the perception of the radiologist.”

Architectural Distortion Statistics

An article about mammogram abnormalities also says, “Specialists estimate that around 4% of women who undertake a screening mammogram present with an architectural distortion. The number of those women in which the architectural distortion would represent invasive breast cancer is very low, perhaps 5%-7% of the 4% with architectural distortion, which becomes a much small number.”

My heart stops racing. I have a 93% chance that this abnormality won’t be breast cancer. Why couldn’t I have found that link earlier?

Another helpful piece of information. According to the American Cancer Society, radiologists will call back 10% of women who have a mammogram for further testing. Some women will be called back for a mammogram on the same day they took the initial test. It all depends on how quickly the radiologist reviews images.

The good news: Doctors will give 90% of women returning for a call back mammogram the all-clear after subsequent tests are complete.

My Mammogram: Architectural Distortion

I open my digital mammogram images and scan for the architectural distortion. I’m not a radiologist, but I find the spot immediately. It’s a small, bright white piece of tissue surrounded by four or five long strands. It looks different than the rest of my mammogram.

I browse through the images of my prior annual screening. It looks different from those breast images too.

I take a snapshot of that image and obsess over it for ten days. I look at it once every morning and once every evening before bed. Oh, and another fifty times throughout the day. I can’t stop thinking about that bright white spot on my mammogram. What is it, and what does it mean for me? Will my next mammogram report reveal breast cancer?

The Follow Up Mammogram

On the day of my follow up mammogram and ultrasound, I try to remain calm. I find ways to distract myself. I try to think about anything other than this test or what a positive result might mean. But, no matter how hard I try, my mind starts to wander, and the anxiety builds.

Will they perform a breast biopsy? Will I find out if I have cancer right there on-site? How would I find an oncologist if I needed one? How quickly could I schedule an appointment to be seen?

My mind is racing, but I keep thinking back to that 93% number. The odds are definitely in my favor.

I’m perfectly fine until I go to get undressed. As I place that pink hospital gown around my bare chest, I feel the tears drop down my cheeks. I brush them away. I try to act brave.

My husband jokes about the urine colored walls and other fabulous decorating choices. Then I hear my name.

The technician shows me an image from my first mammogram. She points to that bright white spot of tissue that looks unlike the rest of my breast and explains that I’m being called back due to breast asymmetry. The appearance of that spot doesn’t look like the rest of my breast or my other breast.

She explains that she’ll take additional images and compare them to the images taken during my routine mammogram. If everything looks perfect, I won’t need to undergo an ultrasound. But if anything is wrong, I’ll need an ultrasound and possibly a biopsy. I start to cry. She tells me to try not to worry and lets me know I will receive my mammogram call back results that same day.

Then she places my breast on the imaging machine and presses a clear piece of plastic against it. She moves my body rolls my breast one way and then another, squeezing it each time between the plastic plate. She asks me to hold my breath while she takes the pictures and then says, “You’re all done. The doctor will look at your images now.”

Called Back for Ultrasound After Mammogram

I’m led back to the hallway. I return to my pea-green seat and quietly hope that everything looks okay. Here I am, waiting for mammogram results for the second time in two weeks. The terror begins to overtake my already shaky composure.

I try to console myself, at least I’ll receive same day results for this mammogram call back. At least I won’t have to go home to wait for the news.

The technician steps out a few minutes later. “They’ll need an ultrasound,” she says, and I feel the panic set in.

She just told me they wouldn’t call me in for an ultrasound unless they saw something on my latest mammogram. Clearly, they see something on the second mammogram.

This time my husband can come along. He jokes about the ambiance in the room, the dim lights, the fact that I’m taking my shirt off, and lying on a small bed. I’m thankful he’s with me that he’s able to take off work to sit beside me and crack jokes to ease my mind.

The ultrasound technician squirts gel onto my chest and then starts to move the wand across my skin. I can see the monitor as she moves it over me. A small, black, circular spot appears. She measures it once, twice, and then a third time.

She moves the wand further up and down my breast. Then she abruptly stops. “All I see is a lymph node,” she says, “nothing more. I’ll call the doctor in now.”

Within a minute or two, the doctor appears beside my bed. He shakes my hand, introduces himself, and says, “I don’t see any cancer. I didn’t see anything on your follow up mammogram, but I wanted to be 100% sure with the ultrasound.” 

At that moment, I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I slowly and calmly exhale.

Calming Mammogram Call Back Anxiety

If you receive a call back for a mammogram, you are probably feeling overwhelmed and terrified. I understand that anxiety all too well.

Mammogram call back anxiety can leave you feeling nervous and tense. The moment you receive that call, you may feel an impending sense of panic and doom. Please know that you are not alone.

I know how scary it is to wait for a repeat mammogram or additional testing and how alone you might feel. If you are experiencing mammogram callback anxiety, please talk to a friend or reach out below.

Mammogram Call Back Statistics

I wish you the best of luck as you undergo further testing and I hope that your future scans are all clear too.

Getting called back for a diagnostic mammogram is not that unusual. Over a ten year period 50% of women will receive a false positive result. There is good news though. While a lot of women are getting called back to check their breast health, less than 1% will receive a cancer diagnosis.

If you are feeling terrified and anxious reflect on that number for a moment. The majority of women who return for a follow up mammogram will be given the all clear!

Mammogram Call Back Stories

Not so long ago, I scoured the Internet in search of happy endings. Now readers stumble across these words and leave their mammogram call back stories in the comments below.

If you are feeling nervous about a mammogram callback please read the words of the brave women who kindly shared their stories below. I hope their stories reduce your fears and anxieties. 

If you receive good news after your call back mammogram please let me know. Each comment helps other anxious women who stumble across this post in search of good news.

** Part two of this story can be found here: Life is Fragile: Make the Most of Limited Time.

211 thoughts on “Mammogram Call Back Anxiety: Stories to Relieve Your Fears”

  1. I haven’t seen any very recent comments but want to add my story since this blog helped me so much. I, too, got the dreaded call back for asymmetry with architectural distortion. Everything just seemed to go in slow motion. I couldn’t get an appointment for the diagnostic mammogram for three weeks out. The wait seemed like forever. The tech was reassuring, but then I had to go for an ultrasound. Nothing seen on the ultrasound, so I thought I escaped a bullet. But then I found out that if something shows on the mammogram but not the ultrasound then it is protocol to get a biopsy. Ugh!! Then it was another 3 1/2 weeks to get that scheduled. The only saving grace was I thought that surely if they thought it was cancer then they would have worked me in sooner.

    Fast forward to the biopsy. The procedure itself was not bad. It was done at the mammogram facility, and I was able to drive myself home. It was another week and a half before I got my results, though, and the wait was excruciating. The good news is that it is “fatty changes” so BENIGN!! I hope everyone who gets that call can take some solace that it is not always a dire outcome. The odds really are in your favor! Blessings to you all!!

  2. Like most here I promised myself that I would come back and share my experience because this post helped me so much during the terrifying wait for my diagnostic appointment. I did my first mammo in the middle of October. I received the result late Friday and when I opened the summary my heart dropped when it saw multiple masses on my right breast and asymmetry on my left breast. By the time I received the result, the offices were closed and I had the whole weekend to panic without any means to do anything about it. Of course I googled, and of course that’s the worst idea. I called the clinic first thing on Monday and the earliest appointment for a diagnostic mammo and ultrasound was December, over 6 weeks later. All the clinic told me was just to book and call in to check if there are any cancellations. Needless to say, it was a terrifying wait that spanned through Thanksgiving. Many sleepless nights. I lost weight. I started feeling random aches and pains which just terrified me even more. I thought it was very cruel to have to wait that long for a followup appointment. On the followup appointment, I was lucky that the mammo technician was super nice. She consoled me about my terror and told me that it’s pretty common to get callbacks on the first mammo since they have nothing to compare the images. She took 2 additional shots of each breast then 2 more of my right breast. Then she told me ultrasound is next and I just have to wait about 10 mins. Well the wait was almost 30 and by the time I was called I was just in a state of pure terror because why are they taking so long, it must be bad. The ultrasound technician was much quieter than the earlier technician. I saw the images of my breasts by the machine with circles on it and somehow seeing them actually made me feel better because they found small masses on the left side too which I read from googling is a good indication of benign cysts. The ultrasound was pretty thorough. After that, it was another wait for the radiologist. When the radiologist came into the room, the first thing he said was all good, nothing to worry about. And I’ve been thinking the worst for so long it didn’t even register right away that it was good news! It was a lot of cysts (I was about to have my period too so they were probably more pronounced) and I have a followup in 6 months because he just want to observe 2 complicated cysts to make sure. I am sure I will go through another bout of anxiety over that appointment. But in the mean time, I can breathe again! Thank you to everyone who shared their stories. This was the only positive thing I can find online and like a lot here, I had this open for almost two months and I read it every time I go into the deep end.

  3. Let’s just say I am very very thankful I stumbled upon your blog, Jewels. This helped me tremendously after panicking from my call back!

    So, I’m 46 years old and just had my first mammogram screening. Yes, my first. It didn’t help that all my friends, relatives, and even the receptionist at the screening center basically scolded me for waiting soooooooo long at this “old” age to have my first mammogram. So not only did I have fear going into my first mammogram, but I also was basically shamed for waiting this long.

    Already doing the mammogram for the first time was scary enough. But getting a call back two days later really added a new level of fear. My first time and I’m already getting a callback! “It must be really bad, and it’s my fault for waiting this long. I bet the cancer already spread.” These were my thoughts spiraling all week while waiting for my second mammo and ultrasound. Like many of you, they saw dense breast tissue and suspected architectural distortion.

    I had to wait nine days for my callback appointment and that was hell enough. I so very feel for many of you that had to wait 6 weeks. How unbearable that must be! Nine days was enough time to go down the scary Google rabbit hole, and this blog was the only uplifting one I saw.

    So today I went to my second appt. After the second mammogram, the technician had me wait not even ten minutes, and said “The radiologist said she does’t even really see the distortion anymore upon second viewing, but we still want to do an ultrasound to double check.” Already, I felt an exhale of relief come out. The tech did the ultrasound, and had me sit out probably just another five minutes before coming out and saying “Yup, good news. The doctor just doesn’t see anything. Probably your tissue evened out the second time we put you on the machine. You can keep to your regular annual appointments.” It was all a pretty quick appointment.

    So in summation, I am very happy. Got to text my husband and mom the good news. And afterwards, I treated myself to a yummy donut!

  4. Just like so many of you, this post and everyone’s comments have been the only bright light of hope during some very dark days. I’m 55 and was called back in after a routine screening mammogram to take a closer look at microcalcifications in my right breast. I’m just back from my diagnostic mammogram and am blessed and thrilled to report that I just need to go back in in 6 months for a follow-up. Like so many of you I have been spiraling…I haven’t slept, I haven’t eaten much, I have been thinking and planning for the worst…all I’ve done is spend time on Google and we all know that just sends us deeper into the darkness. Thank you all for taking the time to post these notes and to give others hope and comfort when all we find on the intranet is the exact opposite.

  5. Like so many of you I promised myself to post once I have had the dreaded callback appointment. 43 year old, 3rd mammogram and no history of breast cancer in the family. Danced into my routine mammogram with not a worry on my mind. Got the pictures taken and went on with normal life expecting my letter in the mail in a few days. When my phone rang the following morning and I saw the number.. I dropped off my work call immediately and answered. We need you back for more images the friendly nurse told me. We observed changes in your left breast. That’s all I got. They scheduled the follow up 5 days later. We hung up the phone and my mind started spinning. Like so many of you I started googling. Lucky for me – I found this post and the many wonderful comments early on. I had little information on what exactly they found suspicious/abnormal and I honestly think that was a good thing. I never saw a report and didn’t go looking for it. I tried to keep busy and read this post and the comments many times over the following days. Whenever I started feeling the anxiety come on … I just started reading. Thank you so much for keeping me (somewhat) sane.

    Fast forward to today. Nothing could keep the anxiety and terror I felt at bay. My appointment wasn’t until the afternoon so I spent the morning trying to distract myself as best as I could. I was certain I would get the worst news of my life. I was scheduled for a mammogram and an ultrasound. They got me in quickly and took images of my left breast. I was told the images would be shown to the doctor and then I would either be called for ultrasound or I would get the all clear. Well I didn’t have to wait very long for the news. No ultrasound needed!! Everything was all good. We’ll see you in a year. I can’t begin to describe the relief washing over me. I did speak at length with one of the technicians afterwards. They re-assured me this happens a lot. More compressed images typically clear suspicions up. They stressed that mammograms can detect cancer 2-5 years before a lump can be felt so even if you ever get bad results … you are most likely in a very good spot to treat. Please do not let this anxiety rob you of the chance to get early treatment options. I for one will never, ever miss a routine mammogram and if I do end up getting another call back – I hope I will be more relaxed about it. It really is nothing to worry about most of the time.

  6. I was also called in for further tests after my recent mammogram (age 52, no history of BC in the family to my knowledge). Asymmetrical density in my left breast. I waited for 8 days after the recall (a total of 5.5 weeks since the first mammogram… they’re backed up at the moment). During those 8 days I found your site (which really helped me!) & told myself I’d also post if it all went ok….and it did. A huge relief. The assymetrical density was just different bits of glandular tissue sitting on top of each other. Here in Australia, routine screening mammograms are only 2D, so the 3D mammogram and ultrasound at the Assessment sorted it out. Between the recall & Assessment I spent a LOT of time reading and researching what may be ahead, scaring myself witless in the process. Had even picked out some surgeons! My advice is to be careful how far you go down the rabbit hole in your research….the stats here are that more than 80% of people going for a follow up Assessment after a screening mammogram are ok, so it’s unnecessary stress. I celebrated the all clear by heading to my local Blood Bank and donating blood. A good proportion of donated blood is used by cancer patients, so it seemed like a small way to help out. I won’t let this scare deter me from routine screening mammograms & will tell everyone I can that the follow up Assessment procedures are done discretely, and with great care & compassion by the BreastScreen team. Wishing you all the very best! ❤️


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