Gloria Denlinger is determined to help other women in Lancaster County avoid her experience with breast cancer by sharing her story.
“My biggest regret is not knowing that I could have chosen 3D mammography for my annual screening. I knew I had dense breast tissue, but was unaware that 3D mammography would have been better for early detection in my case than traditional 2D digital mammography,” explains Gloria.
An Unexpected Diagnosis
Gloria made an appointment to see her doctor after she noticed that one breast was smaller than the other. Her doctor sent her back to the facility where she had her last mammogram, and ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. Neither her doctor nor the imaging center was affiliated with Lancaster General Health.
“The ultrasound showed that there was a tumor in my breast, and a biopsy confirmed that it was cancer. The doctor was ready to schedule me for surgery, but it was all happening so fast that I decided to get a second opinion,” said Gloria.
Gloria went to the Suzanne H. Arnold Center for Breast Health at LG Health’s Suburban Pavilion, where she completed a full diagnostic workup, including a 3D mammogram and ultrasound of the breast and lymph nodes. Her radiologist also reviewed the 2D mammogram images from many previous years of screenings at an outside facility.
“When reviewing my previous scans, my doctor could see that the cancer had been growing for years, but it was partially obscured on prior mammograms because I have dense breast tissue,” Gloria recalls. “Malignant tumors show up white on the images, the same way that dense breast tissue shows up white.”
What was most upsetting to Gloria was that she had gotten annual screening mammograms and her tumor was never detected–even as recently as four months prior.
The 3D Advantage
3D tomosynthesis technology allows doctors to see masses and distortion associated with cancers and precancerous lesions more clearly and with greater confidence. Images of the breast are captured from multiple angles and reconstructed in thin slices that can be examined individually, or combined to create a 3D image of your breast. This makes it easier to detect abnormalities such as cancer, which show up as white areas. And because doctors can look at very thin sections one at a time, those white areas are less likely to be obscured by dense breast tissue which also appears white on the images. In the U.S., half of all women who get mammograms are identified as having dense breast tissue.
Treating an Aggressive Cancer
Gloria chose to treat her breast cancer at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute. Because of the advanced size and stage of the cancer, her team recommended a far more aggressive approach to her therapy and surgery. Gloria completed eight sessions of chemotherapy over 16 weeks to shrink the tumor before her surgery. She then underwent a single mastectomy and removal of her affected lymph nodes.
As part of Penn Medicine, LG Health was able to offer Gloria an innovative procedure for breast reconstruction called TRAM flap, which uses the patient’s own abdominal tissue. A plastic surgeon from Penn Medicine performed the advanced surgery right here in Lancaster.
After she healed from surgery, Gloria underwent 28 sessions of radiation therapy–a necessary step to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Because the cancer had grown so large, clean surgical margins could not be achieved, even with a mastectomy.
Sharing Her Story
Looking back, Gloria describes her experience as a positive one.
“I was assigned a team of doctors, not just a single doctor. Anytime that I had questions or concerns, I knew exactly who I could call to have my question answered. It was absolutely a wonderful experience. I never once felt alone.”
Gloria is grateful for the care she received and is now focused on recovery, while sharing her experience with other women.
“Had I been referred for 3D mammography, my cancer would likely have been detected and treated sooner–possibly up to three years prior, at a much smaller size and stage. Women need to understand that they have the option of choosing 3D mammography and that most insurance plans now cover it,” says Gloria.