Different precautions need to be taken after cancer treatment is finished. Luckily, some women do not need to worry about one diagnostic procedure: mammograms. It all depends on the kind of treatment that was done. Getting a mammogram after radiation is different from getting one done after surgery. This is how mammograms need to be approached after already handling breast cancer once before.
After a mastectomy
If you’ve had a subcutaneous mastectomy– where most of the breast tissue is taken out, but skin and the nipple are preserved- mammograms are necessary. However, annual mammograms often aren’t needed on certain single and bilateral mastectomies. It depends on how much tissue is left. Sometimes, cancer can grow on this remaining tissue, known as chest wall recurrence. This recurring cancer most often appears one to two years after the mastectomy. It is best to speak with your doctor about their recommendations going forward.
After a lumpectomy
Much like subcutaneous mastectomies, lumpectomies have leftover tissue that should be examined regularly through mammograms. A mammogram of the affected breast is usually taken about 6 to 12 months after healing from the surgery. 6 months after that, both breasts are examined with mammography. Depending on your unique situation, your doctor may require a one every 6 months or just annually.
Radiation is very often used after lumpectomy surgeries, but it can change what the breast tissue looks like drastically. So, it’s important to get these “baseline” images so that the doctor can see what is considered normal after radiation.
After breast reconstruction
Reconstructed breasts often do not require mammography. There are exceptions for nipple-sparing mastectomies, if there is a visible abnormality, and if you’re at a high risk for cancer recurrence. Usually, any concerning lumps are examined with a mammogram and an ultrasound or MRI scan.
After saline or silicone implants
Mammography can’t pass through saline or silicone very well, but a process known as implant displacement can allow for better images. This is when a mammogram technician pushes the implant back towards the chest wall and brings the breast tissue forward. This can be rather uncomfortable if there is built-up scar tissue around the implants, but it’s typically much easier if the implants were placed behind the chest muscles. Sometimes, defective implants can rupture during a mammogram, so be sure to mention the fact that you have them when you get screened.
It’s important to remember that if you’ve dealt with breast cancer before, there is a higher likelihood of developing it again, so be sure to keep up with your mammograms! Still, remember that many lumps after treatment are not breast cancer and are completely benign. Every situation is different, so talk to your doctor about what they think is necessary.