From Parkwest Health & Lifestyles
Sara Forrester, 74, of Knoxville, is faithful about getting yearly mammograms. At five feet tall, the sprightly grandmother takes care of her health by walking regularly, and says she usually hits 10,000 steps on her pedometer every day.
“I always get a screening every year. I try to go during October, during breast cancer awareness month, because I get a goody bag!” she said with a laugh.
In October 2015, Forrester’s insurance said she was eligible for a digital tomosynthesis screening if she wanted it. Tomosynthesis is a three-dimensional image, compared to a two-dimensional mammogram. It gives a clearer picture of the breast, especially for women with dense breast tissue, and Forrester said her previous mammograms had shown she had dense tissue.
“They asked me which one I wanted, and I wanted the tomosynthesis,” she said. “This was the first year I was told Medicare would cover it.”
Since breast cancer is denser than regular breast tissue, a tumor appears as a white spot on an otherwise lighter gray mammogram. But in women with dense breasts, the breast as a whole appears whiter, and it can be more difficult to detect a tumor.
Tomosynthesis improves the radiologists’ ability to detect potential breast cancers by helping to pinpoint the size, shape and location of abnormalities. This helps the radiologist distinguish harmless structures from tumors, leading to fewer false positives, fewer call-backs and less anxiety for women.
Tomosynthesis builds upon the success of digital mammography. Experts believe that this method will soon become the gold standard in breast cancer screening and detection. It is now used as a complement to conventional 2-D mammography for patients receiving a screening mammogram.
Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center was the first facility in Knoxville to offer the tomosynthesis technology to its patients.
In Forrester’s case, it showed a spot in her left breast. A biopsy confirmed it was a cancerous tumor. In mid-November Forrester underwent a partial mastectomy (lumpectomy) and had one lymph node removed by Premier Surgical physician Dr. Lytle Brown, IV at Parkwest.
“Dr. Brown did a lumpectomy,” she said. “He made a small incision on the breast and a small incision under my arm to take out a lymph node. The lymph node was clear, meaning the cancer had not spread to it.”
Dr. Brown said the decision to have a partial mastectomy was right for Forrester. “It was an early stage of cancer. For a lot of women, whether you do a partial mastectomy or a full mastectomy is going to depend on size of tumor, the involvement of underlying skin, the size of the breast in relation to the tumor and other factors. You have to individualize care for each person, and this was right for her,” said Dr, Brown.
“I can’t say whether her cancer would have been detected without tomosynthesis, but I am glad that this more sensitive screening tool is available here in Knoxville, and that Parkwest was the first hospital to have it.”
Forrester went home the same day of her surgery, and in January began a series of 20 radiation treatments at Thompson Cancer Survival Center-West.
Today, Forrester is on a medication to reduce her chance of recurrence, and has an excellent prognosis. She said she would recommend Parkwest Medical Center to anyone needing breast cancer care. “The staff at Parkwest, I couldn’t ask for better. They’re just wonderful people,” she said. “I’m doing great, and I am so blessed. I’m hopeful this will take care of it and it will never come back.”
Forrester is back to walking 10,000 steps a day, gardening with her husband, Sam, and spending time with her two daughters and three grandchildren.
“I don’t let this get me down, I’ve got too much living to do,” she said. “I want to see my two grandsons and granddaughter grow up. I don’t have time for breast cancer – I’m too busy!”
For more information about surgical treatment for breast cancer, please visit the Premier Surgical Breast Cancer webpage.