Thousands of mammograms are performed annually in an attempt to detect breast cancer in women, and in the earliest stage possible. We believe we are being cautious by faithfully scheduling our annual mammograms and taking care of our health. What we don’t know is that 40% of women have dense breast tissue, which makes detecting a tumor with a traditional mammogram only 30% effective.
As a result, many women do not discover they have a cancerous tumor until it’s in stage 3 or 4, especially if she is a women with no risk factors (no family history of breast cancer, breast fed their children, etc) and unaware that mammograms have a high fail rate in women with dense breast tissue.
40% of women have dense breast tissue and aren’t aware of it, or the limitations of traditional mammograms in detecting cancerous tumors in dense breast tissue
Through the efforts of advocates such Dr. Carol Cappello, Karen Honrychs, and Dr. Lydia Liao, there is now legislation in many states requiring that women with dense breast tissue are informed. Unfortunately, many who receive this information are not made to understand that having dense breast tissue means that their traditional mammogram is not very effective in giving the radiologist all the information she needs to detect possible cancer. Over 90% of these women are also not being made aware of their other options.
Contrast Enhanced Spectral Mammography
GE developed Contrast Enhanced Spectral Mammography, which uses contrast dye to allows a radiologist to see the internal workings of each breast, unhindered by dense breast tissue. With CESM doctors can provide answers the same day as your screening, often while you’re still in the office. More amazingly, because a CESM provides us with information about the blood flow of each breast, it can show whether a specific area is getting an unusually increased blood flow- often an indicator that a tumor is in pre-development. A CESM can discover cancer at its most treatable and benign stage.
When I was 28, I was told I had dense breast tissue so my mammogram was not particularly readable. I was told if I ever felt anything, I should have the area checked with a sonogram. The problem? What if I didn’t feel anything? Often tumors are only palpable when they are larger or near the surface of the breast, and by that time it could be too late. I specifically asked to have a screening sonogram just in case I was missing something, and was told point blank they would not do that, and would only check an area where I specifically felt something.
CESM was not available yet, and neither was the option of an automated whole breast ultrasound, which is less dependent on the skill of the technician and human error, and can screen for structures I can’t find myself.
These are available now.
When you have a mammogram, ask for a copy of the radiologist’s report
If your doctor tells you that you don’t need it, insist. It’s yours, you have a right to have it. If you have dense breast tissue, it will let you know, as well as what level you are (some tissue is so dense that the mammogram practically looks like a white sheet- nothing can be seen).
If you have dense breast tissue, ask for a CESM. Even if the legislature in your state requires that you are told you have dense breast tissue, doctors and medical personnel are not required to counsel you on this or inform you that you have more options to detect breast cancer when a traditional mammogram is insufficient. CESM is often covered, and if it’s not, it’s the price of a mammogram + contrast dye, and may save your life. A CESM is also more capable of guiding a technician to accurately taking a biopsy of anything questionable in the breast- no guesswork or approximation.
The truth is, when it comes to your health, YOU are your own best advocate. You know when something is wrong, and you may have to fight to get all the facts and access to the best care. If you need to research on your own, or change doctors, do it. It may save your life. And please, please share this information about dense breast tissue with other women so we can save lives. This information is not out there, and many women learn to late!
For more information, visit AreYouDense.org
I attended the Working Mother 2013 Work Life Congress “Breast Cancer Risk Factors” Conference to learn about and share this important information.