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Mammograms may not be enough for some women who have dense breast tissue

Dr. Nancy Cappello shares her story at annual lecture

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Nancy Cappello was always diligent about eating healthy and getting her yearly mammograms. She exercised daily and did monthly self-breast exams.

So when she got her annual mammogram and normal results in November 2003 she was elated. Six weeks later, when her doctor felt a ridge in her right breast and sent her for another mammogram and ultrasound. The mammogram again showed no concerns, but the ultrasound revealed a 2.5 cm suspicious lesion that was later determined to be Stage 3C breast cancer that metastasized to 13 lymph nodes.

She later learned she had dense breast tissue, which affects about 40 percent of women and can make detecting cancer on mammograms difficult since dense tissue appears white and so does cancer.

Cappello, an award-winning breast cancer advocate and legislative activist, shared her story on Wednesday at the Sisisky-Kleppinger annual Endowed Lecture for Women’s Health.

Cappello, who has a PhD in education administration, is the director and founder of Are You Dense, Inc., and Are You Dense Advocacy, Inc., which educates the public about the risks and screening challenges of dense breast tissue. 

Her breast cancer experience has changed laws and lives. She was the inspiration behind Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation density reporting law passed in 2009, making the state a global leader in density reporting, adjunct screening, and the density reporting grassroots movement. More than half the states have since enacted density reporting laws.

The Hill Breast Center at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center was the first in Florida in 2011 to start LumaGem Molecular Breast Imaging system, an advanced imaging technology for detecting breast cancer in patients with complex mammograms and dense breast tissue. The MBI system can also be used as a secondary diagnostic tool when other breast imaging is inconclusive.

MBI can detect millimeter-size breast cancers missed by mammography, especially in women with dense breast tissue.