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Paula’s Breast Cancer Story: Understand Your Breast Density

Paula Allison of Springville

As a retired radiographer, Paula Allison of Springville, IA, certainly understands the importance of receiving an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer and has one done every year. This past year was no exception. She went in for her screening in October and the results came back normal. However, it showed she had heterogeneously dense breast tissue, which qualified her for additional screening.

“I have dense breasts, so I would usually have a follow-up ultrasound,” said Allison. “This time I received an Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS), and they found a mass. They did a biopsy, and it came back positive.”

What are Dense Breasts and Why is Additional Screening Needed?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women with dense breasts are at a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. The denser your breasts, the higher your risk.

“An average of 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue, meaning they have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue, and not much fatty tissue.” explained Therese Michels, manager of St. Luke’s Breast and Bone Health. “Dense tissue can appear white on a mammogram, and cancer also appears white, which makes it more difficult to see a cancer in dense tissue. Because of this, cancers are often larger when found in dense tissue.”

ABUS can help the radiologist find breast cancers that would otherwise not be visible on a regular mammogram. This type of screening uses sound waves to create clear 3D pictures of the breast tissue.

In March, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new guidelines that require mammogram providers nationwide to notify patients if they have dense breasts. A practice St. Luke’s Breast and Bone Health has been doing since 2017 to help women with dense breast understand their screening options.

Additional Screening Leads to Early Detection

Had she only received her mammogram, there’s a chance Allison’s cancer could have gone undetected until her next mammogram one year later. Her decision to pursue the ABUS led to her cancer being found at stage one and allowed her multi-disciplinary team at the Nassif Community Cancer Center to get the treatment process started immediately.

“Everything went really fast,” recalled Allison. “I saw my oncologist and surgeon right away and everything was planned within a week.”

Coordinated Care and an “Amazing Team”

Helping to make things go smoothly was Allison’s care coordinator Mona Cook, BSN, RN, CBCN. A care coordinator is a patient’s constant point of contact throughout the cancer journey. They assess needs and set up referrals within the care team.

“Mona was great,” said Allison. “She suggested doing genetic testing because I have a family history, and everything came back negative, which I was thrilled about. She also connected me with a social worker during my first chemo treatment.”

Dr. Kerri Nowell was my surgeon and Dr. William Fusselman was my oncologist,” she continued. “I see [PCI Hematology and Oncology Physician Assistant] Heidi Barnhart every week and I have an amazing team that does my infusions. It’s just an amazing team at the cancer center. I couldn’t ask for better care.”

Understand Your Breast Density

Allison strongly encourages all women to know their breast density and get the screening tests that are appropriate for them.

“I would really stress to women with dense breasts to do the ABUS,” she said. “I’m really fortunate they found my cancer in stage one because of it.”

Early Detection is the Best Prevention

When it comes to breast cancer, early detection is the best prevention. If you are 40 or older, or have a family history of breast cancer, call St. Luke’s Breast and Bone Health at (319) 369-7216 to schedule an appointment at one of our three convenient locations. We also offer walk-in mammograms, with a doctor’s order, at each of our locations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Face Breast Cancer with Confidence

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, or any type of cancer, the Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help you face cancer with confidence. Call us today at (319) 558-4876 or visit to learn more about treatment options and support services.


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