Once again I had one of those phone calls that takes my breath away and takes the wind out of my sails. A friend was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer this week and the reason it was found so late is due to DENSE BREAST TISSUE. She had a mammogram a year ago, and was told it was fine. In October of 2017 she said she felt something was wrong in her breast. She went to her Primary Care Physician who prescribed some antibiotics for a breast infection. In December, my friend still felt something was drastically wrong. Finally, they did the mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy and discovered the breast cancer. Her tumor was already 5 cm and had infiltrated to a large number of lymph nodes. She is starting chemo this week.
Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows I am constantly preaching about DENSE BREAST TISSUE. Over 40% of women have Dense Breast Tissue (NOT just young women – women well into their 70s and 80s can have it). If you have Dense Breast Tissue, you can be Stage 4 before you know anything is even going on as often tumors are not picked up on mammograms. Dense breast tissue appears white on mammograms and so do tumors. I’ve heard from COUNTLESS women about this fact many have gotten their yearly mammograms and got the all clear right up until diagnosis.
When my sister was diagnosed Stage 3C Breast Cancer 3 years ago, she had dense breast tissue, didn’t realize it and was told only once by our family doctor back when she was having children in her 20s and 30s. She really did not know what that could mean for her and was never told. On her regular mammogram, which was a 3D technology/tomosynthesis mammogram which is supposed to be better at detecting tumors in dense breast tissue, an area of compressed tissue showed. That’s all. THANK GOD our local hospital biopsied, not because they thought it was cancer, but based on family history of my diagnosis and my mom’s diagnosis, they wanted to make sure nothing was hiding behind that area. Because Diann was so paranoid because of my diagnosis and mom’s diagnosis, she gave herself a breast exam every 2 weeks. She never felt a thing even though her tumor was 3 cm at diagnosis.
Now with my friend’s diagnosis, this makes me MORE DETERMINED to get the word out there about dense breast tissue. It is not something easy to talk about it. But the discussion is necessary.
This from breastcancer.org about dense breast tissue:
Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren’t dense. One way to measure breast density is the thickness of tissue on a mammogram. Another categorizes breast patterns into four types depending on which type of tissue makes up most of the breast. Still, no one method of measuring breast density has been agreed upon by doctors. Breast density is not based on how your breasts feel during your self-exam or your doctor’s physical exam. Dense breasts have more gland tissue that makes and drains milk and supportive tissue (also called stroma) that surrounds the gland. Breast density can be inherited, so if your mother has dense breasts, it’s likely you will, too.
Research has shown that dense breasts:
can be 6 times more likely to develop cancer
can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer; breast cancers (which look white like breast gland tissue) are easier to see on a mammogram when they’re surrounded by fatty tissue (which looks dark).
Over half of US States have laws that say women who have dense breast tissue must be notified. Obviously, this doesn’t always happen.
So what to do?
1) Ask the question of every health care provider you have if you have dense breast tissue.
2) If you have dense breast tissue, even if your mammogram comes back okay, INSIST, INSIST, INSIST on an ultrasound. Call your insurance company. Tell them you have dense breast tissue. In most cases it covers. If it doesn’t, ask to talk to a Supervisor. If you can’t get them to pay, do it anyway. Make payments. Your life is worth it.
3) If anything is questionable on the ultrasound, INSIST, INSIST, INSIST on further testing. What is further testing?
A breast MRI or the newest technology – Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI). I wrote about this technology in February, 2015 as recent studies have shown it quadruples detection of breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue!!
PLEASE, I beg you, have this conversation with your doctors, with your mammogram provider, and with your friends. Your life depends upon it.