Every year for the past 25 years, I’ve been getting a mammogram. Ten years ago, a mammography technologist mentioned that I had dense breast tissue. She never expanded on that, and I didn’t think anything of it. But three years ago, her comment re-surfaced in my mind; “what did that mean?” My gut was telling me to look a little deeper.
Upon scheduling my next yearly mammogram, I requested an ultrasound in addition to my routine screening. I wanted a baseline for my record, a reference point for the future. I felt no lumps, no pain, no tenderness, and had a perfect annual mammogram history. I really had no concerns. But, knowing that my mom had breast cancer, I wanted to stay ahead of things.
Sadly, my request was denied. I was told not to worry and that I would be called back for additional screening if something is found on my mammogram. I assured them that I would pay for it but I was still denied. I couldn’t leave it at that.
Luckily, my gynecologist listened to me as I insisted that I wanted a baseline ultrasound due to possible dense breast tissue. With her help (and some creative thinking), I was able to get a referral for the ultrasound (expecting nothing but normal results, just like my mammogram two weeks prior).
Thank God I did! That ultrasound detected a suspicious lesion on my breast and a biopsy was done. On Sept 27, 2012, I received the dreaded news – the biopsy confirmed invasive stage one cancer.
But wait, there’s more…
Additional ultrasound & MRI revealed a SECOND tumor in the same breast. Neither of these tumors were detected on my mammogram due to dense tissue. I was shocked! This is the danger of having dense breast tissue – it can camouflage everything.
My mastectomy was done on Nov 27. Final testing reported two tumors – both small, stage 1, invasive & aggressive estrogen feeding cancer. Because of my early detection, I lucked out big time – all lymph nodes and margin pathology came back negative and NO radiation or chemotherapy was required. I was so relieved –all I could do is cry.
According to my surgeon, if I wasn’t so proactive in pushing for more screenings my cancer would have progressed quickly into an advanced stage and this story would have had a very different ending. I don’t care to imagine what a year’s wait would have meant for my survival! I thank God every day that I was able to achieve an EARLY cancer diagnosis by virtue of the ultrasound I practically begged for.
I’ve learned a lot since then about the dangers of dense breast tissue. I was shocked to hear that 40% of all women between the ages of 20-65 have some degree of dense breast tissue. It pains me to think of all those who are not aware and suffering from delayed diagnosis. So now, like so many other women who have fallen victim to undetected breast cancer, I find myself on a personal mission to share my story as often as possible.
I encourage women to be informed and ask about their density. I urge them to follow through and insist on additional screening if needed. And I beg every woman not to be passive and to take responsibility for their own health. Take the time. There is plenty of information now available that could save your life. Go to www.areyoudense.org and www.densebreast-info.org.
Leslie Mulcahy is now in her 23rd year as the innkeeper/owner of the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford, VT. Watch her full story.
Please note: This blog post was written by a patient and reflects only the opinion of that patient. For more information on breast density email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.