Ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, JoAnn Pushkin has been on a mission: to inform women that breast density compromises the effectiveness of a mammogram and puts them at greater risk for developing breast cancer. Sadly, she learned this the hard way.
“At the end of 2005 I felt a lump during a self-exam,” she says, adding that she had always lived a healthy lifestyle and had never missed a mammogram appointment. The lump did not show up on a mammogram she was sent for that day, but did show up on an ultrasound. “It was estimated that the tumor was growing undetected by mammography for five years,” she says. Undetected because she has dense breast tissue. During those five years, if she had been screened by another tool it might have detected her cancer at an earlier stage, and she might have been spared seven surgeries, and numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
To help other women, Pushkin says she asked Sen. John Flanagan and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee to draft a bill that informs women about their own breast density. In a remarkable triumph, this July Governor Cuomo signed legislation requiring mammography services to inform patients if dense breast tissue is found during an exam. She also spreads the word as executive director of the non-profit Are You Dense Advocacy, Inc., and her own Facebook advocacy page, D.E.N.S.E. NY. There’s no stopping her efforts, she notes. “I’ll keep going forward until I run out of strength.”