Sandy Giustozzi skipped a couple of mammograms, because she had a few good ones in a row and anyway she didn't have a family history of the disease. No harm done, right?
That's not what she heard from her doctor, "now I need surgery and somebody's actually going to cut into my breast and have to operate on my duct so it was pretty scary," she remembers. Fortunately, Sandy's breast cancer hadn't spread and she's doing okay now.
But that's often not the case.
"They say, 'oh I didn't get my mammogram for the past 2 years. I didn't get around to it. I don't have a family history of it,' and they have a larger breast cancer and it's in their lymph nodes, " says Dr. David Arbutina, who heads up the Breast Care and Women's Health Institute of Central Pennsylvania, at Tyrone Hospital.
He says while you need to know whether breast cancer runs in your family, don't let a clean record give you a false sense of security.
Dr. Arbutina explains, "the number of people that have actual genetic breast cancer are few. There's about five percent maybe up to ten percent, because we don't know all the genes that exist."
Judy Jones mother had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer in the 1960's but survived the disease and went on to die of a heart attack in later years.
Judy is one of five girls in the family. "I was down visiting them and I said 'isn't it ironic that none of us have breast cancer.' I'm the youngest of all the sisters and I was the one that ended up with the breast cancer," she says.
Judy credits regular mammograms for her diagnosis. After a partial mastectomy, she underwent radiation, and finished her treatment in August.
Now she's taking Tamoxifen a drug shown to prevent recurrence and she's optimistic, saying "you can beat breast cancer." Dr. Arbutina says that's the good news about breast cancer that people often miss.
"If you are a stage 1 breast cancer which 60% of women are," he says, "your five year survival is 98,4 percent and that's a figure that women don't realize."
Dr Arbutina says it's important to follow up with your physician when you have a lump or abnormal mammogram, but most of the time, it's not cancer. He says women who smoke or are obese are more likely to develop breast cancer.