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Mammogram Monday: Dense breast tissue can be a warning sign

Additional screenings helped Local 10′s Janine Stanwood

Local 10 reporter Janine Stanwood talks about how dense breast tissue was the first warning sign before her breast cancer diagnosis.
Local 10 reporter Janine Stanwood talks about how dense breast tissue was the first warning sign before her breast cancer diagnosis.

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – As part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Local 10 continues a weekly series of segments looking at everything from risk factors to the latest treatment approaches.

In today’s “Mammogram Monday,” a look at a very common factor that can affect screening and diagnosis: Dense breasts. You know the subject of our story, Janine Stanwood, from her reporting here on Local 10.

Now’s she’s on a mission to help other women.

Janine takes her job — and her health — seriously. A family history of breast cancer led her to start screening in her mid 30s, earlier than women of average risk.

“My mom several years ago was diagnosed with breast cancer, as was my father’s sister,” she said. “I have cancer on my mom’s side and cousins and great aunts and family members have died, so it’s something I’ve always taken seriously.”

That first screening revealed another potential concern, dense breast tissue.

“On mammography when we say that a woman has dense breasts, we see the breast is very white, which means they have more fibergrandular tissue,” said Dr. Susan Kesmodel, Director of Breast Surgical Oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Cancer. “So it’s really the way we see breast on mammography it’s not something you would feel with a physical exam.”

Dense breast tissue can hide cancer, and that’s why women like Janine need additional screening.

“If a patient has a strong family history of breast cancer then they would typically recommend other studies,” Kesmodel said. “We can do a breast ultrasound, we can do something called contrast-enhanced mammography and screening breast MRI.”

Based on her age, family history and the dense tissue, last year it was recommended that Janine have an MRI in addition to her other screenings.

“I’m thinking OK, no big deal, let’s go do it, and I did,” she said.

Then came the diagnosis.

“I knew, I knew they were going to tell me,” she said. “I knew I was going to be told I had breast cancer.”

Although her cancer was early stage, the tumor was large. That, combined with her family history, led Janine to make a tough call — to have a double mastectomy.

She then decided to make her private pain public, in the hope of helping others.

“I’ve been out on the street I’ve been out in public and I’ve had women come up to me and say, ‘You know I saw your story and it reminded me to call my doctor and get my imaging done,’” Janine said. "That’s why I did it.

“If I can help in any way I feel like this is my purpose to give back.”

Janine’s story underscores that while screening mammography for women at normal risk is recommended starting at age 40, those at higher risk need to begin screening in their 30s.

About the Authors:

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.