Some people call it junk mail. It’s unsolicited material from businesses and organizations that can be aggravating at times as it clutters a home mailbox. Katie Thomure believes one of those mailings saved her life.
The mailing came from the Blessing Breast Center. It was an educational brochure featuring a unique service the Center offers called Automated Whole-Breast Ultrasound or ABUS. Women who have been told by their health care providers that they have dense breast tissue can benefit from an ABUS screening in addition to their annual mammogram.
“Dense breast tissue and breast cancers both appear as white areas on a mammogram, making it easy for a breast cancer to hide,” said Dawn Herzog, manager, Blessing Breast Center. “On ABUS images, breast cancers show as black areas within the white breast tissue, making them much easier to see.”
The National Cancer Institute says nearly half of all women age 40 and older who get mammograms have dense breast tissue.
Katie gets the message
“The ABUS information I received in the mail caught my eye,” she said. “I thought I probably should do that because my doctor had told me I have dense breast tissue. My age also made me think about it.” She was 49 years old at the time. Katie is committed to preventative health care. “The quicker we can catch things, the more treatment options we have,” she said.
And that is just the way the situation worked out for Katie. Her mammogram showed no suspicious areas in her breast tissue. Yet the ABUS screening she had after the mammogram did find a potential problem and the need for a biopsy. Katie had cancer.
Thanks to ABUS, it was caught early. Katie needed no chemotherapy, and a genetic test showed no mutations that would increase her risk for recurrence of the cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation therapy and was prescribed estrogen-blocking medication.
“If I would have waited another year, I’m not sure what this cancer would have looked like and what treatment options I would have had,” Katie said. “It would have looked a lot different, I think. ABUS saved my life.”
What’s ABUS like?
An ABUS screening is not at all like a mammogram. There is no compression of the breasts. ABUS is like the ultrasound exam a pregnant woman receives to see her baby. Except instead of the ultrasound transducer – the device that produces the sound waves – being used on the abdomen – it is used on the breasts.
“Katie is a perfect example of why ABUS is important as a supplemental screening to mammography,” Dawn said. “Her breast cancer did not show up on a mammogram. ABUS allowed us to detect her cancer.”
Dawn stresses that ABUS should be used in conjunction with mammography and not instead of it.
Unlike a screening mammogram however, ABUS requires a doctor’s order.
About the Blessing Breast Center
Blessing is the only health care provider in the region offering ABUS. The next closest ABUS providers are in southeast Iowa; Pekin, Illinois and St. Louis.
“I have had patients contact me from Nashville and Las Vegas, as well as Chicago, wanting to come here for this technology,” Dawn said.
Katie says the Blessing Breast Center team did as much for her as ABUS did.
“The Blessing Breast Center is made up of an amazing group of people,” she said. “When you hear the word cancer, it’s scary. The staff who cared for me have been my rocks. They provided me comfort, talked me through some tears, and let me know they were there for me.”
For more information on the care provided by the Blessing Breast Center, including ABUS, go to blessinghealth.org/breastcenter.
Mammography screening recommendations
For women at a normal risk level for breast cancer, a baseline mammogram is recommended between the ages of 35 to 40. If no concerns are identified at that time, a woman should have a mammogram every year starting at age 40.
Women should also speak with their primary care provider about their individual risk factors that may affect this recommendation. Factors that may increase breast cancer risk include:
• Family history of breast cancer
• Previous noncancerous tumor of the breast
• No childbirth or childbirth after the age of 35
To schedule a mammogram or other test at the Blessing Breast Center, Illini Community Hospital in Pittsfield, or Blessing Health Hannibal, call 217.223.8400, ext. 4300. Appointments can also be made online at blessinghealth.org/breastcenter.