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Breast cancer survivor fights for laws to increase breast density visibility during mammograms

Breast cancer survivor raising awareness on the danger and mystery behind dense breasts
Breast cancer survivor raising awareness on the danger and mystery behind dense breasts 02:28

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- As we continue to observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, doctors say more women need to understand the issue of breast density. It could be a lifesaver.

Nearly half of women 40 and older who get mammograms have dense breast tissue, but many of them may not know how it impacts their cancer risk.

One survivor is working to change that. 

Joann Pushkin started getting annual mammograms at age 40. At 46 years old, she found a lump which was not picked up by the screening.

"I found out I had breast cancer, that it had been missed by mammography because of dense breasts, and that I had dense breasts all within 10 minutes of each other. And I had the ultrasound you know, 15 minutes later, and there it was clear as a bell," Pushkin said. 


She had later-stage cancer which required many surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

"I really feel like I was effectively denied an earlier stage diagnosis," Pushkin said. "So there was no awareness that we should be discussing additional screening, no awareness that dense tissue hides breast cancers."


That's because dense breast tissue can look white on a mammogram – the same as masses and cancers.

 "Mammography alone is not adequate screening for women that have dense breasts. Additional imaging, such as MRI or ultrasound should be done," Dr. William Dahut, Chief Scientific Officer for the American Cancer Society said. 

The American Cancer Society said women with dense breasts also have a higher risk of breast cancer.

"Dense breasts are much more common in younger women. Having information is actually very important in understanding how you should be screened and what your risk is," Dr. Dahut said. 

Information Pushkin didn't have – so she created DenseBreast-info.

Plus she fought for laws and testified before the FDA. As of next September, all mammogram reports sent to patients will be required to include breast density.

 "Nothing I'm doing is gonna save any woman from getting breast cancer, unfortunately, but what this does is increase the possibility that we're going to find it early," Pushkin said. 

She's also working on legislation that would make insurers cover all breast imaging costs for higher-risk women. 


The American Cancer Society said if a woman has dense breast tissue, it's important to have regular mammograms because most breast cancers can still be seen on a mammogram even in dense tissue.

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