Mammograms can be very useful in diagnosing breast cancer in some women. Unfortunately, there may also be some risks associated with this type of screening procedure. Some of the possible mammogram risks include radiation exposure, inaccurate results, and spread of cancer cells due to compression of the breasts. Each patient should educate herself on the possible benefits versus the potential risks associated with getting a mammogram. Any questions or concerns about potential mammogram risks should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.
Radiation is among the most significant mammogram risks. Low levels of radiation are used during this screening exam, and these levels are largely considered to be safe. Some women are advised to have a mammogram every year, leading to an accumulation of radiation in the body, potentially increasing the risks of developing cancer. If there are additional medical conditions present which require the use of tests using radiation, the cancer risk is significantly increased. The younger the woman when beginning yearly mammogram screenings, the greater the risks of cumulative radiation.
Inaccurate results can be particularly distressing mammogram risks. False negative results may occur, especially in women who have not get gone through menopause or who are taking hormone replacement therapy due to an increase in breast density. This added density can make it more difficult to see cancerous tissue during a mammogram. False positive results can cause great anxiety and fear in addition to requiring additional testing and even more mammograms. In some cases, surgery is performed in order to biopsy a sample of breast tissue as a result of a false positive mammogram result.
In some cases, spots are found on a mammogram which are micro-calcifications instead of invasive forms of cancer. This can lead to an over-diagnosis of cancer, leading to unnecessary treatment. Some women undergo difficult treatment regimens such as chemotherapy for a condition which may not actually need any treatment at all.
Compression of the breasts during testing may lead to serious mammogram risks. If undetected cancerous tissue is present, this type of tight compression can rupture the tiny blood vessels and other structures in the breast, causing the cancer cells to spread into other areas of the breast or into the rest of the body. This complication is potentially life-threatening, as there is a much lower chance of successfully treating cancer after it has spread into the bloodstream or has invaded other tissues or organs.