In the past few months, at least two high profile TV news anchors have announced they have breast cancer. The latest, Joan Lunden, says the diagnosis of a particularly aggressive form of the disease left her in shock. We spoke to a medical Oncologist to get more information on how to prevent the same thing from happening to you.
The former “Good Morning America” host announced her cancer on twitter, surprising to her and many friends because just 14 days earlier a mammogram came back giving her a clean bill of health.
She didn't believe it so she had an ultrasound, a test that isn't routine, which revealed the lump.
“Mammogram is not a perfect test,” said Medical Oncologist Dr. David Ririe from Portneuf Medical Center’s Cancer Center.
Like Lunden learned the hard way, no matter how devoted you are to your annual mammogram, sometimes it isn’t enough.
“No woman should get her little card saying your mammogram was normal and say it’s impossible that I have breast cancer,” added Dr. Ririe.
This doesn’t mean there should be constant fear looming overhead. The ultrasound that Joan Lunden got was encouraged by her doctor. Sometimes in women with denser tissue, the mammogram won’t reveal everything. But the ultrasound goes too far the other way, so sensitive that in many cases it reveals cancerous cells that aren’t necessarily a threat, therefore causing unnecessary panic.
“The normal human reaction is ‘my goodness I’ve got cancer I’m going to die. This is terrible.’ Just from that notification all by itself.”
Dr. Ririe told us that it is a good time to be an oncologist though, with recent discoveries, they are able to detect earlier and more often, and are equipped to handle the cases in which the patient might need a little more screening.
“More and more discoveries, more and more excitement as far as making it less and less likely that a patient who gets diagnosed with breast cancer, or any cancer, will die from it,” he said, “balanced with the realization, still to many people dying from cancer in general.”
Dr. Ririe says at age 40, you should have a risk benefit discussion with your doctor, decide on a timeline for when to start screenings, and have an annual mammogram.
You may remember, Amy Robach of NBC’s Today Show was recently diagnosed with breast cancer after getting a mammogram for a story she was working on.