Hallie Leighton was 39 when doctors told her she had breast cancer. It was already stage 4.
"Since there was evidence it spread to other parts of my body, I was now incurable. They said you're going
to be on treatment for the rest of your life," Leighton said.
With a family history for breast cancer, Leighton started mammograms at 35. The tests didn't show cancer, but her doctor didn't tell Leighton her breasts were dense, which can make the X-ray difficult to read. Instead of sending her for additional testing such as ultrasound or MRI, the doctor never brought it up.
Leighton's case isn't that unusual. The National Cancer Institute says mammograms miss up to 20 percent of breast cancers. That's mainly because of high breast density, which is why New York's Legislature just passed a bill requiring health care providers to notify women if their breasts are dense so they can discuss other options with their doctors. The medical community is mostly opposed-- concerned the legislation could lead to unnecessary testing.
Dr. Freya Schnabel, the director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, says it's important for doctors and patients to know all the facts.
"Knowledge about density coupled with risk assessment should be part of the conversation about how each woman should be screened for breast cancer in a way that's appropriate to her age, background risk and breast density," Schnabel said.
Leighton didn't get that opportunity.
"I think I get the most emotional when I think about my mother," she said. "I don't want my mother to mourn me. I can't think about that."
Her doctors say she has a one in six chance of living three years. They're trying to find a treatment to help beat those odds.
Breast density notification legislation is pending in 15 states.
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