I am 49 years old. I’ve been having annual mammograms since 40. I was always told that my breast tissue was very dense, but I had no idea of the implication, or how this might affect me and the chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer. I had felt a lump in my right breast for a long time (years?), but never worried as I was religious about getting my mammogram. In March of 2016, (I was just about to turn 48), I went to my doctor because a dimple appeared in the same area of this lump when I lifted my right arm. A mammogram was ordered, and it came back negative, and so I no longer worried. In October of 2016, the lump was still there, but the dimple appeared all the time. I went to my doctor again, who then ordered an ultrasound. Again, I wasn’t worried: I had done due diligence by having my annual mammogram, right? I should have realized something was amiss, as the ultrasound tech looked at me and asked when I had last had a mammogram-she then counted up on her fingers to realize that it had been 7 months earlier. They requested a mammogram immediately. I later learned from my GP that the cancerous lump was quite evident on the ultrasound, but even on the same day, they were unable to locate it on the mammogram. I now know that is because my breast tissue was too dense. By the time I had a biopsy, I was experiencing nipple discharge. I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma-Stage 2 although some doctors say Stage 3. Post surgery revealed 4 out of 16 axillary nodes were affected as well. A mastectomy, 6 rounds of chemo and 25 rounds of radiation later, I am okay…a different person mind you! I am on Tamoxifen, an anti-hormonal drug for the next 10 years as well as Zolodronic Acid to prevent the cancer from spreading to my bones.
What would I have done differently had I known that dense breast tissue is an increased risk factor for breast cancer? Knowing that my breasts were so dense, why wasn’t I offered an ultrasound? Had I known the correlation, I would have most certainly have insisted. My breast cancer could have been caught so much earlier! Doctors are unaware or unwilling to accept the correlation between breast density and breast cancer. I just had an oncologist tell me that breast density was NOT a risk factor. Now that I am well, and trying to move forward in my journey, I am still fighting with doctors and the medical system to give me a simple ultrasound on my left breast. They all think that by ordering a mammogram, I am okay! As you can imagine, that is not very reassuring, and they don’t seem willing to accept that. Please ladies, ask your doctor about breast density, and insist on an ultrasound if you feel it is warranted! Everyone says to be your own advocate. This is imperative, as is being informed!
Here is a picture of my mom and I after completing Run for the Cure this October. Mom is also a breast cancer survivor (coincidentally, she too was always told she had dense breasts!)
Jodie lives in Ontario and was diagnosed at age 48 with Stage 2 breast cancer, 7 months after a normal mammogram.