When Attorney Teresa Hendricks-Pitsch was told she had breast cancer, it was the size of a Gherkin pickle. Just a few months after her last test came back in the clear, she felt a lump that was thicker and more painful than normal. Her surgeon said based on the size and cancer type, the tumor had been growing in her breast for at least seven years.
“I was diligent about getting my mammograms because I thought they could detect cancer, said Teresa. “They gave me a false sense of security.” years.
In many cases, dense breast tissue blocks mammogram’s ability to identify abnormalities.
What Teresa didn’t know was that 40% of all women have dense breast tissue and that she did as well. “Masking” occurs when dense tissue surrounding a tumor obscures cancer growth with regular tissue in test results. Women with extremely dense breast tissue have a 6 times greater risk of developing cancer than women with fatty breasts.
Only 1 in 10 women learn about breast density from their physician
Democrat House Representative Winnie Brinks has introduced House Bill 4260 (link to bill or fact sheet) to bring awareness to this issue. HB 4260 would require mammogram results to include information to patients and doctors letting them know they have dense breast tissue, and that other screening options are available that may better detect abnormalities.
“I introduced this bill simply to raise awareness, and to promote a healthy discussion between patient and physician that could save many lives, as well as precious time and medical resources.” said Representative Winnie Brinks. “Women need accurate information about their health so they can make the best decisions about their own care.”
Women can get an ultrasound of the breast, a thermogram that detects thermal energy, or magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI). These tests are less invasive and more accurate than a mammogram.
“Had I caught the cancer early with a thermogram, which can detect a tumor the size of a grain of rice, a simple lumpectomy would have sufficed,” said Teresa.
7 years late and $365,000 short
Thirty eight percent of breast cancers in the U.S. are diagnosed at a later stage, after cancer has spread beyond the breast. So much time passed while the Teresa’s cancer went undetected it spread to her lymphnodes.
North Carolina recently became the 12th state to pass breast density notification legislation, joining Tennessee, Hawaii, Maryland, Alabama, Nevada, and Oregon as states that have passed this important legislation in 2013.
“I tried the lumpectomy, but the cancer had spread too much, it had long tentacles. This meant that I would require additional surgery, five in total, and six rounds of aggressive triple chemotherapy. All this cost my insurance company more than $350,000.”
Teresa says if she had to do it over again, she wouldn’t get a mammogram. “I know that’s controversial to say because some women’s lives have been saved by a mammogram. But I truly believe there’s a healthier and better way to increase early detection. I tell women to at least have a thermogram every year and an untrasound every other year. If you have dense breast tissue insist on an MRI.”