Mammograms are an important screening tool in the fight against breast cancer, but did you know that having dense breasts is one of the most common reasons that mammograms fail to detect cancer? The information in this film about breast density could save your life or the life of someone you love, so please share. *Partial nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.*
This short film is part of a feature length documentary I am currently working on with a client, friend, and colleague, registered nurse attorney John F. Carroll. I also work with John on Legal Settlement Documentaries through my other production company, Pretrial Productions (www.pretrialproductions.com). John is a medical malpractice attorney at Watson & Carroll, PC, LLO in Omaha, Nebraska. You can visit his website at http://www.watsoncarroll.com/.
John's mother, Michele, who is featured in the above short film, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, a form of breast cancer, in April 2014, despite the fact that she had recently had a “normal” mammogram. She first learned that she had dense breasts at the time of her breast cancer diagnosis. Prior to her diagnosis, no health care provider ever told her she had dense breasts and that dense breasts make mammograms difficult to read and are a risk factor for breast cancer. At the time of diagnosis, Michele's breast mass was over 7cm. As a woman with a history of cystic breasts, and armed with a "normal" mammogram, Michele dismissed the mass. Unfortunately, the mass in her breast was hidden by the dense tissue. Michele underwent a bilateral mastectomy shortly after her diagnosis.
Just as women’s breasts come in all shapes and sizes, they come in all degrees of density as well. In fact, there is a scale which measures the density of a woman’s breast and rates the density from 1-4 (1 being lowest density and 4 being highest density). Breast density is also reported as heterogeneously dense (>50% density), which equates to a 3 on the 1-4 breast density scale, and extremely dense (>75% density), which equates to a 4 on the 1-4 breast density scale.
Most women do not know whether they have dense breasts, and of those that do, most are unaware of their actual breast density score despite having regular mammograms. Your breast density score is an important number to know because:
- High breast density is the most common reason mammograms fail to detect breast cancer – up to 50% of cancers are missed on mammograms of women with dense breasts.
- Having dense breasts increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer – a woman with dense breasts is up to 4 or 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer.
- It affects MANY women - information from http://www.areyoudense.org/ indicates that 2/3 of pre-menopausal and 1/4 of post-menopausal women have dense breasts.
- If a woman has dense breasts, she may require an ultrasound and/or other further screening to screen for the presence of cancer, BUT if she is never informed that she has dense breasts, it is unlikely that further screening will occur until serious symptoms develop.
At this time, 20 states have enacted breast density disclosure laws which require health care providers to tell women whether they have dense breasts. If you have dense breasts, you need to speak clearly and directly with your health care providers about the need for further screening such as ultrasound, 3D imaging, MRI etc. An open dialogue with your health care provider about breast density, breast self-exams, clinical breast exam, and a discussion of risk factors are critical to maintaining proper breast health. My home state, Nebraska, does not require health care providers to discuss breast density. Does yours? If not, contact your state representatives and demand action.
For more information on breast density, three great websites to visit are:
Also, Cheri Phelps is the talented photographer taking Michele's portrait photos in the film. You can see more of Cherie's work at http://www.cphelpsphotography.com/.
By Krissy Hamm