Mammogram May Not Always Show Cancer

By: Brittany Gunter
By: Brittany Gunter

An Omaha woman just found out she has breast cancer, but her mammogram results just 8 months earlier came back negative. Now she’s sharing her story in hopes to inform other patients.

66-year-old Michele Carroll is a mother and grandmother in a big and close-knit family. It was tough for all of them when her husband recently passed away of cancer. She then decided she needed to get tested.

“I just couldn’t stand the idea of my kids going through what they had gone through with their father,” said Michele.

She was relieved when her mammogram results came back negative. “I was just really thankful that everything was clear and I didn’t have to worry about anything.”

It turns out she did have something to worry about though. Around 8 months after the screening she noticed some changes on one of her breasts, so she went to a doctor. After more tests she learned she had Stage III breast cancer. The family was shocked.

“We had to figure out for ourselves, how do we go from a mammogram that’s read as normal, to having a very large mass,” said her son John Carroll.

Through research they found out the reason her test results came back negative was because she has dense breasts, so it was difficult for the radiologist to see the cancer. Michele hadn’t gotten a mammogram in a while, so the radiologist had nothing to compare the image too.

If you take a look at different images, breasts that are denser show up very white instead of clear.

Dr. Janet Grange said, “The more white you have in your native breast, the harder it can be to see cancer. It’s kind of like hunting for polar bears in a blizzard.”

Grange specializes in breast cancer. She says women with dense breasts shouldn’t be discouraged though. There are alternate screenings like a 3D mammogram or ultrasound.

She says it is a good thing for women to be aware if they have dense breasts or not. She says it’s important to ask that question and make sure you keep up with your own breast health. If you notice there’s anything different, tell doctors before the mammogram.

“It’s just one more tool that you can know about your body to keep yourself safe,” said Grange.

Currently there’s no law that says doctors must give out information on breast density to patients in Nebraska. Now the Carroll’s are hoping to change that.

They are asking everyone to contact their legislator to try and get a law passed here.

Michele is currently getting ready to start her treatment Monday and undergo a double mastectomy. She hopes her story will help others know the questions to ask when they get a mammogram.

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