PUBLISHED ON: 28 November 2016

Being recalled to a breast clinic after routine breast screening can be an extremely anxious time. But knowing why you’ve been recalled and what will happen next might help ease some of your worries.

Breast Care Nurse Eve Smith explains what it means if you’ve been called back and what to expect.

Woman having a mammogram

Why have I been recalled?

This is often the first thing people want to know.

Most women are recalled because an area has shown up on the mammogram and more information is needed before a result can be given. This could be an area of the breast that looks slightly different from the rest of the breast or the other breast, or from a previous mammogram if you’ve had one. Often this area is small and any change very subtle.

You may also be recalled if you mentioned you’d noticed a breast change, such as a lump, at your screening appointment, even if your mammogram looked OK.

Does it mean I have breast cancer?

Being recalled doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. And the majority of women who are recalled don’t have cancer.

About four out of every 100 women screened are recalled. You’re slightly more likely to be recalled after your first mammogram.

Of these four people recalled, three will not have breast cancer. They might have a normal breast change or a benign (not cancer) condition.

My breast clinic appointment is really soon – does this mean my case is urgent?

Guidelines recommend that women should be seen quickly after they’ve received their recall letter.

Some people worry that because their appointment is really soon, it must mean it’s more urgent. But this isn’t the case. The reason people are seen quickly is to reduce the amount of time they have to wait, because we know that waiting can be a very worrying and stressful time. 

At the breast clinic

What happens at the breast clinic?

At the breast clinic, you’ll be seen by a doctor or a nurse. They should explain why you’ve been recalled.

You may have a breast examination, though not everyone will.

You may have another mammogram, an ultrasound scan or a breast biopsy. You might have one or a combination of these tests.

Some people worry that being offered a biopsy means they’re more likely to have cancer. But biopsies are often done to confirm that something is not cancer.

You might have to wait around for many hours to have all the tests you need, so it’s a good idea to bring someone with you to keep you company.

When will I get my results?

If you don’t have a biopsy you’ll probably be able to get your results on the same day.

If you have a biopsy you will have to go back another day to get your results. You may have to wait a week or more for this to ensure that your results are complete. Again, it’s a good idea to bring someone with you to get your results.

If you have a normal result, and you’re aged 50–70, you’ll be invited back for routine screening again in three years’ time. If you’re over 70 you’ll need to request an appointment in three years’ time. 

A small number of women might be called back for an earlier review after 6 to 12 months.

If tests show you have cancer, the specialist breast team will take over your care. You will usually meet a breast surgeon and a breast care nurse who will talk to you about your diagnosis and treatment. Most breast cancers found through screening are early-stage breast cancers, and the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is likely to be.

I’m so scared I can’t sleep. Is this normal?

It’s completely normal to be worried after receiving a recall letter or while waiting for test results. 

Talking to someone might help reduce your anxiety. Your letter should contain a phone number you can call if you have any questions. This will often be a breast care nurse.

You can also call Breast Cancer Care’s Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

You should also have been given information about what to expect at the breast clinic appointment.

Although you might be very worried, try to remember that for most women this anxiety will be temporary. 

Call our free Helpline

You might be interested in:

» Mammogram and other tests

» Breast screening: look at the facts before deciding whether to attend

» Do you still need to think about breast screening if you are over 70?