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Los Angeles’ First Female Linesperson Versus Cancer. And the Technology Used in the Fight.

ABUS1Sixty-three-year-old retiree Joyce Decho spends most of her time tending to her two acres of land in Bishop, California and looking after her dog, two cats, and twenty-six tortoises. A linesperson of thirty-eight years, Joyce worked and studied incredibly hard to defy the conventions of the time and become the Los Angeles Department for Water and Power’s first female linesperson, a remarkable achievement she describes humbly.

She thought that would be the biggest challenge of her life. “I never thought I would have breast cancer,” she said.

A year ago in May, Joyce went for two mammograms after her general practitioner found irregularities on her skin. However, the mammograms showed up clear.

“Usually you just take the word of your doctor, and you don’t push the issue,” said Joyce. But Dr Stuart Souders MD, a specialist in diagnostic radiology, knew there was something not quite right.

What the mammograms did show was that Joyce had dense breasts. Around 40% of American women have dense breasts1, but less than half are even aware of what it is2.

Breast density is a measurement of the amount fatty tissue versus the amount of fibrous tissue in the breast. The more connective tissue there is, the denser the breast tissue is… and the whiter it will look on a mammogram. Both cancer and dense tissue show up white on a mammogram, so looking for tumors in women with this natural breast tissue variation can be like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm.

Joyce decided to read up on the issue and learn as much as possible. “I had the opportunity to make my own decisions,” she said. “You’re less afraid when you’re more knowledgeable.”

Dr Souders suspected Joyce’s dense breast tissue could be hiding a tumor, so he told her about new technology they had in the hospital: Invenia Automated Breast Ultrasound.

See, on ultrasound, cancer appears black, and stands out from fibrous tissue.  Developed to help doctors find cancers hidden in dense breast tissue, Invenia ABUS is the only FDA-approved technology designed for screening women with dense breasts as an adjunct to mammography. It has shown a 55% relative increase in detecting invasive breast cancers in women with dense breasts over mammography alone.3ABUS3For Joyce, that made all the difference.

“[Dr Souders] used the ABUS, and sure enough there was a six-millimeter-wide invasive lobular cancer,” she said. “It caught me by surprise!”

“I chose to have a mastectomy, and that was in August,” she remembered. “The tumor had clear margins so I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.”

Had the cancer not been caught as early, Joyce’s story could have been a very different one. “If she continued with her regular mammograms, I still don’t think we would have caught it because of her breast density,” said Dr Souders. “Most likely it would have made itself known when it was palpable, and by that time, prognosis is not always good, especially for her type of cancer.”

“I feel whole again,” said Joyce, now recovering from her surgeries. “In actuality, ABUS saved my life.”

“The procedure doesn’t hurt at all,” she added. “If you catch cancer early it can save your life.”

 

References

  1. Pisano, E.D., Gatsonis, C., et. al. Diagnostic Performance of Digital versus Film Mammography for Breast-Cancer Screening, N Engl J Med 2005; 353. 1- 11.
    Millward Brown 2015 research/survey commissioned by GE Healthcare
  2. Assessing Improvement in Detection of Breast Cancer with Three-dimensional Automated Breast US in Women with Dense Breast Tissue: The SomoInsight Study.
  3. Rachel F. Brem, MD, László Tabár, MD, Stephen W. Duffy, MSc, Marc F. Inciardi, MD, Jessica A. Guingrich, MD, Beverly E. Hashimoto, MD, Marla R. Lander, MD, Robert L. Lapidus, MD, Mary Kay Peterson, MD, Jocelyn A. Rapelyea, MD, Susan Roux, MD, Kathy J. Schilling, MD, Biren A. Shah, MD, Jessica Torrente, MD, Ralph T. Wynn, MD, Dave P. Miller, MS

More Information

Q&A with Dr. Jessie Jacob on What It Means to have Dense Breasts

A breast cancer survivor’s story and why you need to know, are you dense?

Different Tests for Different Breasts: The Google Hangout