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Dix Hills Breast Cancer Victim Makes Medical History

Local mom turns her own diagnosis into a catalyst for change in NY's medical system.

Women in New York will now have a better shot of catching a breast cancer diagnosis early due to the work of a Dix Hills mom, who turned her disease into a platform for change in the medical field.

When JoAnn Pushkin learned that her breast cancer could have been detected earlier, had she been notified of her dense breast tissue, she took action. Until last month, there were no legal requirements for patients to be alerted if they have dense breast tissue, a common condition that lowers the chance of finding tumors or abnormalities to 40 percent.

In Pushkin's case, if she was aware of her dense breast tissue, a second x-ray could have been taken and the cancer in her breast may have been detected earlier. 

On July 23, her efforts to raise awareness of this issue paid off. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law requiring mammography services to inform patients if dense breast tissue is found during an exam. The law will go into effect in January. New York is now the fourth state to pass a law that requires providers to tell patients if they have dense breast tissue.

Pushkin was planning her daughter’s sweet 16 when her life was turned upside down by a late-stage breast cancer diagnosis. Having received a yearly mammogram, Pushkin was in shock that her cancer was not detected earlier. It was then that she was told that she had a dense breast tissue. The common condition makes tumors difficult to see on a reading, since most of the x-ray appears white. An Ultrasound would likely have picked up on the cancer, but since Pushkin was never told of her dense breast tissue, she didn’t know to have a second test.

“To be sent for an exam every year and for no one to tell me that there’s a 50-50 shot they’re going to miss it if there’s cancer there - that’s a coin toss for god’s sake,” Pushkin said. “You’re denied the opportunity to protect yourself.” 

Dense breast tissue is known to be one of the leading risk factors for breast cancer in women, but since dense tissue can obscure the ability to see tumors, mammograms are known to fail to detect cancer in women with the condition. This allows present cancers to advance to a later stage, making them less treatable and more expensive to get rid of.

Writing on her laptop from a hospital chemo bed, she became an advocate. Pushkin, who is also the executive director of Are You Dense Advocacy, Inc., wrote to politicians and news outlets asking them to inform women of dense breast tissue.

“I figured if most woman don’t know about dense breast tissue, that certainly a male legislator wouldn’t know about it,” she said.

After numerous drafts, Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern), worked to get the bill passed in New York.

"Simply put, this legislation is about saving lives. Supplied with information about their own breast density, women will now be empowered to discuss additional screening options with their physicians,” Flanagan said in a statement.

Pushkin is now attempting to get the bill passed in Congress. The bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) and Rep. De Lauro (Conn.), and has gained 32 co-sponsors so far.

“It’s been an inspiring lesson in watching democracy in action,” Pushkin said. “That one sick woman can do this if decent people are elected. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”

Lisa freeman August 09, 2012 at 12:41 PM
You're a beautiful lady! Thanks for fighting for the rest of us! Good luck to you!!!
anonymous contributor August 09, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Recently after having a baseline mammogram at age 37, I was asked to return for additional pictures. Due to being unsure if I were pregnant, the Dr. elected to do only the ultrasound. She believed the ultrasound images looked good and concluded I would not have to return for the additional mammogram. Why? Because this NYC based doctor felt the mammogram would not provide any new info due to how DENSE my breasts were...had never heard of this. After some research, I figured out that in the future I will request a digital mammogram with ultrasound. Thank you Ms. Pushkin and others for having the strength to fight for others. And thanks to my doctor for her honesty and providing me with the term "dense" which led me to highly useful info and this inspiring article.
Babylon and Beyond Photography April 02, 2013 at 10:43 AM
YES, thank you Joann. I wish I had thought of battling this. The only reason I got an ultrasound after mammography was that I felt a lump and after the mammogram came back fine, I kept arguing ... there is definitely something in there, can't you do another test? They gave me the ultrasound and found the lump. I'm now five years cancer free. Best to you Joann and all who are battling this disease as well as other cancers.
Denise Botiglione April 02, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Thank you Joann. Im also battling breast cancer/chemo now. I have dense breast tissue as well and went for regular mammo's every year. Best of luck to you going forward.
Donna April 03, 2013 at 01:11 AM
Thank you for being the strong woman you are and helping us all. I was fortunate to have good doctors that always did both mammo and sono due to dense breast tissue and caught my breast cancer at stage 1. Your actions will save lives. Be well.

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