by Pamela Kurtzhals, MD, Breast Surgeon
Are you uncertain about whether breast surgery affects your ability to get mammograms or interferes with the scans? Too embarrassed to ask? At Scripps Health, we’ve heard it all, so there’s no reason to be shy. Our professional staff is available to answer all of your mammography questions via phone, email or in person.
If you’ve had a lumpectomy, breast reduction or breast lift, you still need annual mammogram screenings. Because your breast tissue may be different now, and because you could have scar tissue, it’s important to choose a breast care center where the staff has experience working with women with prior breast surgeries.
Radiation therapy often follows a lumpectomy, a surgical procedure to remove cancerous tissue. These treatments can change your breast tissue and skin. For this reason, you should get a new mammogram, sometimes called a surveillance mammogram, six months after your treatment ends. Your doctor will use this new baseline mammogram to compare and look for changes in future screenings.
After a lumpectomy, your mammogram screenings will take place as usual. Your doctor may ask for extra diagnostic views of the lumpectomy area, or for additional screenings like ultrasounds or MRIs. Ask your doctor if you need to get a mammogram every six months or if it’s okay to get them annually.
A breast lift changes your breasts, which makes your earlier mammograms not as helpful for future comparisons. For this reason, your doctor may recommend getting a new baseline mammogram about six months after your surgery. This will become the new standard that your doctor will use to compare future screenings against, and identify changes.
Overall, your mammography experience shouldn’t change following a breast lift. The compression machine will not “undo” your lift or cause your breasts to sag. An experienced technician will still be able to get the views needed without causing you undue discomfort.
A breast reduction involves the removal of breast tissue. Because your breasts change and scar tissue can form after the procedure, it’s helpful to get a new baseline mammogram about six months after the surgery. These scans will become the new standard for your doctor to use when looking at future screenings.
Your mammogram experience post-reduction shouldn’t be any different than what you experienced before surgery. If anything, you might find the procedure to be more comfortable since there is less tissue to compress.
Many doctors send removed breast tissue to labs to check for cancerous cells. In one study, nearly 10 percent of women who had breast reduction surgery had abnormal-looking cells called atypical hyperplasia. These cells aren’t cancerous or life-threatening. Still, it’s good to know if you have them because their presence is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. This finding could prompt your doctor to recommend more frequent mammogram screenings.
It’s understandable to have concerns about mammogram screenings after you’ve undergone breast surgery. That’s why it’s important to choose a cancer care center that has experienced staff that routinely works with post-surgical women like you.
At Scripps Health, our mammography technicians know how to make your exam as comfortable as possible. Wondering what else you should look for in a cancer care center?
This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Pamela Kurtzhals, MD, a breast surgeon at Scripps Clinic in San Diego. Learn more about breast care at Scripps.