Density Woman: The true adventures of Dr. Nancy Cappello, superhero!
As a breast cancer survivor myself, I am proud to play a role in advancing the lifesaving work of Dr. Nancy Cappello, who first brought awareness to the limitations of mammography in finding tumors in women with dense breasts, a condition that affects 40 percent of women.
Nancy's crusade began in 2004 when, within weeks of a “normal” mammogram, she was diagnosed with advanced-stage 3c breast cancer. The tumor was the size of a quarter. Her lymph nodes were involved. How could this be? When she asked her doctors, they dismissively told her it's because she has "dense breasts."
Huh? What’s that? she said.
As she found out, by digging, even as she was fighting back nausea and going bald from the chemo that would save her life, there were studies – plenty of them – studies going back 20-plus years, establishing that not only do 40 percent of women have dense breasts, but that mammograms miss cancer in dense breasts! That’s because dense breasts show up white on mammograms, as do tumors. The denser the breasts, the more hidden the tumors. Most “happy grams” – those notices we get in the mail with our mammogram results – contain no information about breast density. Most women have no idea that their doctors can’t see the life-threatening cancer growing inside them.
As a result, women with dense breasts are dying – and for no reason. She could have been – and still could be – one of them. My graphic novel Density Woman: The True Adventures of Dr. Nancy Cappello, Superhero! is the story of how one stubborn person –someone who won’t let the bastards win – can make a difference. It’s the story of how Nancy Cappello became the Erin Brockovich of breast cancer.
In 2005, as a result of her crusading work, Connecticut passed the first bill in the nation to require insurance companies to cover whole breast ultrasound as an added screening to mammography for women with dense breast tissue. Additionally, in 2009, Connecticut enacted the first density reporting law in the nation, requiring disclosure of a woman's breast density as part of her mammography results. Today, with Nancy’s help, such bills have been passed in two dozen states, and federal legislation is pending.