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Breast Cancer Survivor Urges Women To Talk To Doctors About Their Imaging, After Her Mammogram Didn't Go Far Enough

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Every October, we see products and storefronts decked out in pink; 5Ks and fundraisers with that signature ribbon.

The importance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month cannot be understated, especially the message about yearly breast cancer screenings.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory shares a powerful story about suburban woman whose mammogram didn't go far enough.

"I was never so excited for a birthday," said Cheryl Fortier, of Frankfort.

Her 50th birthday bash was a bound to be a blast, but the celebration was extra special because it was something she might've previously taken for granted.

"Having a cancer diagnosis, and just going through what I went through, it just changes your perspective on just every day," Fortier said.

Her story begins in Summer 2020, at her yearly mammogram screening.

"Of course, you have a little anxiety. You're praying you have good results," Fortier said.

And she did have good results. The mammogram showed no growths. Everything seemed fine.

Not so fast, thought Dr. Miraj Shah-Khan, from Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital.

"Upon reviewing her imaging, it was clear that she had high mammogramic density," Dr. Shah-Khan said.

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That's another way of saying Fortier had dense breast tissue. It shows up white on mammograms. Dr. Shah-Khan, a breast surgical oncologist, explains a mammogram can see easier through gray, fatty areas that make up most breasts. Something could be hiding in the denser white spots.

So, the doctor ordered an ultrasound of Fortier's breasts, which uses a different machine and technology. Lo and behold, that test revealed a mass.

ultrasound still1

"You can clearly see it stand out within this patch of otherwise normal breast tissue," said Dr. Shah-Khan.

It was Stage One breast cancer. Who knows how much it could've grown and where it could've spread if not caught until Fortier's next mammogram, which would have been a year later.

A follow up MRI confirmed the tumor.

"Dr. Shah-Khan, essentially her being an advocate for my health and being such an amazing surgeon, she saved my life. I tell her that every time I see her," said Fortier, who opted for a double mastectomy after the finding. She'd had a few biopsies from her breasts before (all turned out benign), but didn't want to take her chances after this malignant discovery.

The mom of three girls is now cancer-free. She's sharing her happy ending in light of a troubling statistic: approximately 50% of women have dense breast tissue, and may need a closer look.

"It's important for women to talk to their doctors about their imaging," said Dr. Shah-Khan.

It's also crucial that women 40 and over get breast exams once a year.

Research has shown women with higher breast density are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.

A 2015 study found more rates of dense breast tissue in black women than in white women.

Some breast cancer resources:

CDC On Breast Cancer Awareness

American Cancer Society On Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Susan G. Komen Foundation

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