|State:|| New Jersey |
|Date of diagnosis:|
|Age at time of diagnosis:|
Stage of diagnosis:
Stage 3 - Triple Negative
|Last 'NORMAL' mammogram:||2 months prior to diagnosis/cancer STILL invisible on mammography once felt|
|How was cancer diagnosed?||Felt by Chiara - ultrasound confirmed diagnosis|
Upon my return from studying in Florence, Italy to get my Master’s degree in Italian Culture, I went to my primary care physician in August 2014 for my routine physical. She gave me a breast exam and told me, at the age of 42, that I did not need a mammogram. Even though I don’t have immediate family history of breast cancer, I didn’t feel comfortable with her advice; I consulted with another doctor who promptly ordered a mammogram.
The mammogram in August 2014 was 'normal.' I do not recall reading anything about breast density on my report; the topic of my breast density was not brought up, I did not know to ask about it and I was not offered information. I was happy to be “healthy.”
On the eve of my 43rd birthday, October 24, 2014, I felt a large, golf-ball sized mass at 2:00 on my left breast, I was terrified by this foreign object. My boyfriend told me it was probably nothing, marking the beginning of his denial and the fight for my life.
After I felt the lump, a new PCP ordered another mammogram. At 2.3 cm, the lump was still not visible on the follow-up mammogram! Immediately, an ultrasound was ordered, and the tumor was clearly visible. A biopsy confirmed that I had breast cancer.
My breast surgeon showed me the mammogram and ultrasound images, saying finding a tumor in dense breast tissue is like “finding a snowball in a snowstorm” on a mammogram. The breast surgeon I got a second opinion from ordered an MRI, which was controversial – my first breast surgeon said she doesn’t order MRI because of potentially delaying treatment. I decided to go with the MRI, and did have to get a second mass biopsied, determining I had stage three breast cancer, due to the two large masses in one breast.
I was baffled as to how mammograms and breast exams could not have found my malignancy; I was told that this often happens with women who have dense breast tissue. Since I had triple negative breast cancer, the tumor grew quickly. I wish the radiologist and PCP did their job and ordered further testing; if my tumor had been found when it was very small, I would have been a candidate for a lumpectomy, conserving my breast and its sensitivity.
Since my diagnosis, I started a blog called www.beautythroughthebeast.com where I blog about my cancer journey, emphasizing the importance of women knowing their breast density. I attend breast cancer support groups and am involved in fundraising for breast cancer. Since I am open about my story, the first thing I say to women, broaching the topic of breast health, is the importance of knowing their breast density: I tell women to ask their radiologist about their breast density, and if they have dense breast tissue, to get further testing - starting with a 3D mammogram and then discussing adjunct screening with health care providers.
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Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography screening to detect cancer.
Two-thirds of pre-menopausal women and 1/4 of post menopausal women have dense breast tissue.
Adding more sensitive tests to mammography significantly increase detection of invasive cancers that are small and node negative.
Cancer turns up five times more often in women with extremely dense breasts than those with the most fatty tissue.
While a mammogram detects 98% of cancers in women with fatty breasts, it finds only 48% in women with the densest breasts.
A woman at average risk and a woman at high risk have an EQUAL chance of having their cancer masked by mammogram.
Women with dense breasts who had breast cancer have a four times higher risk of recurrence than women with less-dense breasts.
A substantial proportion of Breast Cancer can be attributed to high breast density alone.
There are too many women who are unaware of their breast density, believe their “Happy Gram” when it reports no significant findings and are at risk of receiving a later stage cancer diagnosis.