This bra, that I decorated myself after a trip to Michaels, helps remind me that you can’t always tell by looking what’s inside with just a mammogram. And, likewise a clinical exam or self breast exam may miss an early breast cancer.
Finding breast cancer as early as possible
As a clinician, I worry about missing an early breast cancer that could be lurking within or may be too difficult to see on a mammogram. Don’t get me wrong, mammograms are the First and Best step for breast cancer screening and yet, there are times when we must look differently and go beyond so that we find breast cancer as early as possible.
Early Detection = Better Outcomes
When breast cancers are found early, when they’re small and they haven’t spread, the treatment options are also much less drastic and severe. For many women, that means a lumpectomy instead of mastectomy and a choice about chemo that may only involve taking a pill and not having weekly IV infusions. According to the National Cancer Institute, early detection with mammography has led to a 15-20% reduction in deaths from breast cancer.
What does breast density have to do with breast cancer?
For women with dense breasts, finding a early breast cancer can be like trying to find a “snowball in a snowstorm”. You see on a mammogram, breast cancers appear white on a gray background of breast tissue. When the breasts are dense, the entire breast looks white, making it virtually impossible to see a new breast cancer. The breast on the far right is the most dense.
Could you see a small breast cancer, which would appear white, in that image?
What should I do if my breasts are dense?
If you find out that your breasts are dense, as I just did with my most recent mammogram, then ask for an ultrasound. You can have a hand-held ultrasound or do what I’m doing and have an Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS).
Research has shown that for women with dense breasts, simply adding ultrasound will help detect about 30% more breast cancers. I’m lucky, because the Breast Health Center where I have my mammograms and where I send my patients at El Camino Hospital, also has the capability to do an Automated Breast Ultrasound within days.
If you need more information
You can learn more about El Camino Hospital’s High Risk Breast Health Center which performs over 10,000 breast screenings each year and is a leader in providing the most state of the art breast health imaging in Northern California
If you’d like information on Breast Density Legislation, click here for the Are You Dense non-profit organization, started by my friend, Nancy Capello, that has helped make sure that women around the country are now being informed of their breast density.
Disclosure: I am working with El Camino Hospital to help spread the word about all the life-saving services available to people not only here in Silicon Valley but around the globe.