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Healthy You

My Journey: How a New Screening Method Caught My Breast Cancer

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 8:39 AM

Patti Beyer, a NorthShore patient, shares her experience in discovering she has breast cancer and how she overcame it. Patti discovered her breast cancer through NorthShore's Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound (ABUS).

For years, my breast tissue has been labeled heterogeneous or ‘dense’ in breast reports sent to my doctor. My sister and I share this trait and talked about it recently. She told me that in addition to her yearly mammogram, her doctor now orders an ultrasound because she has dense breasts and lives in California - one of 27 states, not including Illinois, which has a mandate requiring doctors to inform women that their breasts are dense and explain the additional screening options available to them. With dense breast tissue, the regular mammogram often does not see cancer when it is there.


I discovered that the Breast Center at NorthShore Glenbrook Hospital had recently installed an Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) machine. I had my yearly mammogram - my results were “normal” – but because of my sister’s advice, I requested an ultrasound The ABUS ultrasound revealed I had an “area of concern.”

I returned to Glenbrook and three more diagnostic mammograms were done. All recorded “normal” results. NorthShore’s radiologist, Georgia Spear, MD, next performed a targeted ABUS ultrasound, which continued to reveal one small lesion. She then followed-up with a needle biopsy.

My pathology report stated: “You have breast cancer.” I was devastated and very disturbed that mammograms were not sufficient to screen me properly. Without the ABUS ultrasound that I had at NorthShore, I would be walking around today with cancer growing inside me.

4 out of 10 postmenopausal women have dense breast tissue. “Heterogeneous or dense breast tissue can be six times more likely to develop cancer,” according to*.

Because I had an ultrasound, my breast cancer was found early, the tumor was under 1 centimeter and my lymph nodes were cancer free. Additionally, I was able to choose between lumpectomy or mastectomy, required no chemotherapy, and was given 16 treatments of radiation rather than 35 sessions, with radiation targeting only where the tumor site was located rather than whole-breast and/or underarm. Also, my radiation oncologist said that there was very little chance that I would develop lymphadema because of my abbreviated breast cancer treatments.

Being on this side of breast cancer, I wanted very much to share this story with you, to encourage you to check your breast report that is only sent to your doctor. If you discover you do have heterogeneous or dense breasts, ask your doctor for an ABUS ultrasound. I am so very grateful that I did!

-Patti Beyer

*Note: This website lists lifestyle choices to help women with dense breasts keep breast cancer risk as low as possible.