A new state law in effect looks to educate women on their breast density, and the woman who fought for the law is working to get the word out. Our Erin Billups reports.
JoAnn Pushkin was the ideal patient. She ate healthy, exercised and got annual mammograms. She also did self-breast exams, which is how she found a lump seven years ago.
"The tech who did the exam left the room, came back in and said to me, 'OK, you can get dressed, it's all clear,' and I said to her, 'No, no, I'm the lady with the lump so big I can feel it,'" Pushkin says. "And she said, 'Oh no, honey, you've got dense breasts. That's going to be a very hard find for us.' And I remember saying to her, 'Wait, what?'"
Mount Sinai breast surgeon Elisa Port says that about 30 percent of women who get mammograms have dense breasts.
"By far, of the younger age groups, the 40- to 50-year-old age group, it's actually higher," Port says. "So probably more than half of women under the age of 50 have dense breasts."
Fatty breast tissue is more transparent, making it easy to spot cancer.
"Denser tissue shows up on a mammogram as whiter, and cancers show up as whiter as well, so it's harder to see a cancer against the background of a dense breast," Port says.
Pushkin's tissue is extremely dense, but they were able to identify her tumor through an ultrasound.
"Because of the stage it was found, because it was missed five years in a row, I've gone through eight surgeries, eight rounds of chemo, 30 rounds of radiation and a recurrence, and so now, the rest of my life, I live as a time bomb," she says.
She continues to fight for her life and the lives of others. Through her advocacy organization, called DENSE, she lobbied for a bill that's now law in New York State. The Breast Density Inform law requires that doctors tell patients their breast density after a mammogram.
"The letter I got in the mail every year after those mammograms, simply said, 'normal, negative, no evidence of cancer,' six words, because there was no requirement before this law in New York for women to be told that," she says.
There's now a push underway to get a similar measure passed in New Jersey, and Pushkin is also working to get a federal bill or regulation on the books.
"We've just got the news that a federal bill has been introduced by Congressman Steve Israel of New York and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut," she says. "So that will mean that once passed, that all women in the United States get notification."