Breast cancer

Updated 19 October 2017

3 random things that can mess with your mammogram results

How bizarre are these cases of mistaken identity?

Do you stick to your annual check-ups? Your yearly mammogram after a certain age?

“Early detection saves lives.” This mantra – the crux of countless public service announcements and awareness campaigns around cancer – is as encouraging as it is empowering.

Plus, underdiagnosis remains a problem in SA, where cancers are often caught too late.

But at the opposite end of the spectrum, another issue is on the rise: that of overdiagnosis. As technology advances, science can now zoom in on miniscule flaws that make cancer detection a murkier matter.

Read more: The signs of ovarian cancer every woman should know about

Take mammography…

If five women over the age of 40 were to get mammograms, one of them would be saved from dying of breast cancer.

But another three could be called back for additional testing for a “false positive”, something that looks like cancer, but turns out to be harmless: a cyst or calcium deposit, benign tumour or dense tissue.

This phenomenon is being called overdiagnosis and, in recent years, it has morphed into a lightning rod due to the collateral damage it can cause: patients are exposed to the cost, emotional turmoil and side effects – some of them life-threatening themselves – of unnecessary surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Read more: 5 signs you might have a scary vitamin B12 deficiency

Unlikely things can make mammograms more difficult to read – or throw off the results altogether.

Here are three common things that can also mess with your mammogram results in a pretty substantial way:

1. Breast implants

Saline or silicone fillers can make it tricky to see certain parts of your breast during imaging. Ask your doctor to refer you to a clinic with experience reading scans of women with implants.

2. Tattoos

In rare cases, tattoo ink can look like a cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. Make sure your doctor and radiologist know if you have skin art anywhere on your body.

3. Deodorant

Some antiperspirants contain substances that can show up on a mammogram as white spots. Skip it the day of your test.

These four factors could all cause a pregnancy test to be wrong. Plus: Here’s exactly how to skip your period every month.

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock 


Ask the Expert

Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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