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Are You Dense? What About Your Breasts?

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Do you know if you’re dense?  Or are you fatty?

I’m talking about your breast tissue.  Knowing the difference between the two tissues can save your life.  Last week, my office hosted an information session with Chiqeeta Jameson, the Director of Communications and Women’s Health Advocacy for  SonoCiné. SonoCiné is an automated whole breast ultrasound, offered by a Reno company right here at Renown Health.

But before I get to that, let me tell you why it is important.

Fatty breast tissue shows up transparent on a mammogram (think of what it’s like to look through Jello).  Dense breast tissue shows up white on a mammogram (think of what it’s like to look through oatmeal).  Cancer also show ups white on a mammogram. Imagine trying to find a pearl in a bowl of oatmeal, and you can understand the problem.  Mammograms are not capable of finding cancers in women with dense breast tissue – especially the fast-growing cancers – nearly as well as ultrasound can.

Some interesting stats:

  • 40% of women in the US have dense breast tissue.
  • Over 50% of all breast cancer is missed in women with dense breast tissue.
  • Women with dense breast tissue are 4-6 times more likely to have breast cancer.
  • Over 70% of breast cancer occurs in women with dense breast tissue.

Given that the standard of care for women in the US is a mammogram, can you now see how that standard of care is insufficient for 40% of the women in our country?  That is 15 MILLION WOMEN!

VIDEO: Breast cancer survivors talk about SinoCine ultrasound screening technology.

I heard from two Reno women, Heather Reimer and Chiqeeta Jameson, who had mammograms that didn’t find any abnormalities (i.e. clean bill of health), but after finding a lump themselves, they were screened with ultrasound, and they both ended up having dense breast tissue and breast cancer within that tissue.

Chiqeeta told us that in an ultrasound, the breast tissue shows up white, but abnormalities (i.e. cancer) show up as black.  That would be like trying to find a pearl on a black glove – contrast makes it easy!  She also explained the types of ultrasounds available.  There are screenings, where the technician looks at an area of concern on the breast (and often not at both breasts), and then there are whole breast ultrasounds.  What I learned is that if you’re doing a screening, they may look at the lump that you’re concerned with in one breast, but what if there was cancer in the other breast?  A screening wouldn’t catch that.

Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound, in addition to mammography, may find as much as 100% more cancers in women with dense breasts than can be found by mammography alone.  SonoCiné uses a robotic arm to scan the entirety of both breasts – up into your armpit, up to your clavicle, down your sternum, and underneath your breasts (did you know that all of those areas have breast tissue?!)  Other technologies just scan the area of your bra cup, which can miss a great deal of actual breast tissue.

I am not yet 40, that magical age where mammograms are recommended.  But I was told  that since I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family, I should be diligent with my self-exams.  If I find anything, I should go to my doctor, who will request a mammogram.  If I don’t find any lumps, I can wait until I turn 40 to get a mammogram.  The mammogram will determine whether or not I have dense breast tissue.  And now I know that if that mammogram says I am indeed dense, I should request an ultrasound screening, namely the SonoCiné, which screens the whole breast with a robot ( which means eliminating human error  – because what if the tech forgets to scan an area in a manual ultrasound? It can happen).

Nevada is one of only 13 states that has Dense Breast Legislation in effect, requiring women to be alerted if their mammogram indicates they have dense breast tissue.  You know that letter they send saying your mammogram was all clear?  Make sure you look at the bottom of that for any reference to dense breast tissue.  That should be a trigger for you to have more conversations with your doctor and to push for yearly ultrasound exams in addition to yearly mammograms.

I think what was most powerful about the message I heard was that it came from a woman who had dense breast tissue, found a lump, but was told that the mammogram was clear and it must be a cyst.  Her instincts told her something was wrong, and she kept pressing for more opinions and finally was told to get an ultrasound that found her cancer.  The two survivors who spoke at my office today were in their 40s.  They are young and healthy, and they want YOU to learn from their trials.

Heather Reimer was the other survivor I spoke with.  She has started a Facebook campaign called “Each One Tell One.”  The premise is that each one of us who hears the message about dense breast tissue must tell at least one other woman, and ask them to promise to tell another woman.  She started this movement because recently, a good friend of hers went through a near-identical experience to hers, and her friend’s cancer wasn’t discovered until it was very advanced.  Heather said that it struck her that she hadn’t shared her learnings with this friend, and it could have helped her friend find this cancer so much earlier.

So here are the actions I ask you, the Reno Moms Blog community, to take:

  1. Go like the Each One Tell One page and join the movement.  Take a personal pledge to start spreading the word about dense breast tissue.
  2. If you’re under 40, do your self-exams each month!  Get to know what your breast tissue feels like so if something changes, you will catch it.
  3. If you are over 40, make sure you find out if you have dense breast tissue (ask your doctor, or look on that letter with your mammogram results), and if you do, press for an ultrasound each year in addition to your annual mammogram.
  4. If you know you have dense breast tissue, take advantage of the Renown SonoCiné October special of $150 for a screening.

Be your own BREAST friend!

I encourage you to watch the video featuring the inspiring women mentioned in this post.

Series Navigation<< How to Support a Family Facing Breast CancerKathy’s Story: Fight. Stay positive. >>

About Lynnette Bellin

Lynnette Bellin
Lynnette Bellin is the former owner and site manager of the Reno Moms Blog. She is a married mother of a teenage daughter and a highly energetic tween boy. Lynnette moved to Reno in 2001 after choosing to live in a place that she loved for its natural beauty. She has written four children's books, including The Kindness Ninja and a series of three books called Adeline’s Magical Moments Collection. She has been obsessed with blogging since 2002. Lynnette loves to experience outdoor adventures in our area, including skiing, hiking, camping, and open water swimming. She spends her days working from home for a NYC ad agency and shuttling kids to dance, lacrosse and basketball.

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