Woman Credits Additional Screening Tools for Early Cancer Diagnosis
Thursday, October 11th, 2018
A breast cancer diagnosis is scary, no matter who you are or how prepared you are. For 50-year-old Sandy Cederbaum, it was also a surprise. Now nine months later, she celebrates being cancer-free, crediting the screening tools and physicians who helped to diagnose her.
“I’d been getting yearly mammograms since I was 45,” Cederbaum said. “They never came back abnormal, and I always thought I was doing what I should to prevent myself from getting breast cancer. I never considered myself high-risk for cancer.”
However, Cederbaum’s provider, Sarah Hamilton, a nurse practitioner at Piedmont Physicians Group Midwifery Center in Athens, thought differently.
“She was familiar with my family’s history with breast cancer and every time I saw her, she’d urged me to also get screened to see if I was at high-risk for breast cancer,” Cederbaum said.
Cederbaum’s mother and three aunts are all breast cancer survivors. With her family history and Hamilton’s recommendations in mind, Cederbaum finally took time to set up an appointment with Piedmont Athens Regional’s High-risk Breast Cancer Program.
“I completed the questionnaire, which asks questions related to family history, and I was shocked to learn that I was indeed considered high-risk for breast cancer,” Cederbaum said. “When I saw the results ranking me in the ‘high risk’ category, I’d assumed I’d made a mistake in my questionnaire.”
The High-risk Breast Cancer Program provides a more comprehensive early detection program to women who are considered at high-risk for developing breast cancer. It’s led by Piedmont Physicians Surgical Specialists in Athens’s Cody Gunn, M.D., breast surgeon, and Heather Wheatley, nurse practitioner.
For most women, an annual mammogram and breast examination may be adequate to ensure early detection for breast cancer, but for women at high risk because of family or personal history, a more comprehensive early detection program is recommended that includes the option of annual breast MRI with mammography.
“Ms. Cederbaum was initially seen by Heather, and it was suggested that she have an MRI of her breast in six months following her annual mammograms,” Dr. Gunn said. "A breast MRI looks at breast tissue in a totally different way than mammography and allows for a more detailed breast cancer detection plan every six months."
Since Cederbaum had recently completed her annual mammogram, which came back normal, Wheatley scheduled a baseline MRI.
Cederbaum's MRI came back showing a very small spot, about the size of a pea, according to Dr. Gunn. “Even though I had scored high enough to become part of the high-risk breast cancer program, I didn’t see myself as high risk so I wasn’t really worried about it. I didn't think it could actually be cancer,” Cederbaum said.
Cederbaum was immediately called back in for additional testing, and that’s when she learned her pea-sized spot was actually an aggressive form of cancer.
"Ms. Cederbaum was diagnosed with a stage IA triple negative breast cancer, which was detected very early by MRI, in spite of her normal-appearing mammogram," Dr. Gunn said. "Although it was small, triple negative breast cancers are typically more aggressive and require aggressive treatment. We immediately scheduled her for surgery to remove the small mass."
After Dr. Gunn completed a lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy to remove her cancer, Cederbaum completed chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments.
“It’s been almost a year since I first learned I had cancer and I’m still shocked by it,” Cederbaum said. “I continue to go in for regular follow-ups since I recently completed my treatments but I feel extremely lucky.”
Cederbaum not only credits the additional MRI screening through the High-risk Breast Cancer Program, but also the words of her nurse practitioner Sarah Hamilton for recommending her to complete a high-risk evaluation.
“I didn't know this group or opportunity existed before Sarah mentioned it, I can’t help but think what if I hadn’t listened to her,” Cederbaum said. “My cancer was so aggressive and fast-growing, if I’d waited even just six months it could’ve been a different prognosis and outcome for me.”
Cederbaum hopes her story raises awareness about the High-risk Breast Cancer Program. Since her experience, she’s spoken to others and encouraged them to talk with their healthcare provider to see if their family history warrants making an appointment through the program, as well.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2018 and 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. Survival rates continue to increase due to early detection, increased awareness and improved treatment options. Today, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.