Theresa H., Breast Cancer Survivor

Overcoming Breast Cancer: One Woman’s Story
Theresa, 42, of Minden, Nevada, got her first mammogram when she was 40 years old. She had never experienced abnormalities, and the first screening reflected that. But her second mammogram, at age 41,showed cause for alarm when it revealed a small group of calcifications.

Theresa, a wife and mother of two boys,ages 6 and 10, was diagnosed in early September 2009 with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is the earliest form of breast cancer. DCIS occurs when abnormal cells are still within the duct and have not invaded surrounding tissue. However, DCIS can progress to an invasive form of cancer if left untreated.

“The calcifications can’t be felt through physical examination,” says Antoinette Cortese, MD, Board-Certified Radiologist, fellowship trained in breast imaging and Medical Director of Sierra Surgery Breast Imaging Center of Excellence. “These abnormal cells manifest as microcalcifications that look like small white specks on a mammogram.”

Thanks to her advanced fellowship training in the precise use of sensitive digital mammography and computer-aided detection, Dr. Cortese was able to detect the minute calcifications in Theresa’s breast. The abnormalities were smaller than 2 millimeters—slightly bigger than the diameter of a pinhead. After a needle biopsy, Dr. Cortese told Theresa the calcifications were cancerous.

Theresa’s treatment followed with a lumpectomy to excise cancerous tissue and establish the margin of cancerous cells.

“I made the decision to undergo bilateral mastectomy,” says Theresa. “My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 24. She didn’t have access to the technological capabilities that I have today, and I wanted to take an aggressive approach combating cancer.”

Since the mastectomy and her breast reconstruction, Theresa says the procedure hasn’t limited her activities. She has completed treatment and still continues to get yearly mammograms.

One Woman, a Nationwide Movement
Theresa isn’t alone in early diagnosis of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), steady declines in breast cancer mortality among women since 1990 have been attributed to a combination of early detection and improvements in treatment. But statistics from the ACS show only 54 percent of women age 40 years and older in Nevada report getting their annual mammogram, and an estimated 1,350 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the state last year.

Women should have a mammogram every year beginning at age 40.

“Early diagnosis saves lives, and the best means of early detection is mammography,” says Dr. Cortese. “It’s crucial that women begin annual screening mammography at age 40. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, such as Theresa, may have developed more advanced stages of cancer if left undetected. A large percentage of women who develop breast cancer don’t have risk factors.”
Talk with your physician about factors that may increase your risk for breast cancer.

These include:

  • History of breast cancer in immediate family members
  • A breast cancer gene mutation
  • A prior biopsy that demonstrated a high-risk lesion, such as atypical hyperplasia

“I feel it’s so critical to discuss early detection with women,” says Theresa. “Many women believe they are invincible and avoid screening. But with current technology, treatment and physician expertise, breast cancer can be treated.
I’m so thankful Dr. Cortese’s expertise was available at Sierra Surgery, and that I can be here for my family.”