February 6, 2002
Kerry Dumbaugh was diagnosed breast cancer seven years ago after a mammogram showed a false negative. The full transcript of her interview with Susan Dentzer follows.
The NewsHour Health Unit is funded by a grant from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
SUSAN DENTZER: Let's talk a bit about your personal history with cancer. What happened?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Well, I was going to my gynecologist for a routine exam, another one of those routine exams. I had just had a mammogram two days before, which was standard procedure, and then I took the films to Dr. Jerome, and she found a lump. The mammogram had been totally negative, so they told me I had nothing to worry about, and Dr. Jerome felt a lump. She said since the mammogram was negative that probably it's nothing, but if I wanted a second opinion, she would recommend that I see a surgeon, Dr. Willey, and I did that.
Dr. Willey examined it, and I could tell immediately from her reaction--I'd never met her before. I didn't know what the lump was, but I knew what she thought that it was. She did a biopsy, and it was cancer.
SUSAN DENTZER: So you had a mammogram two days before that showed nothing.
KERRY DUMBAUGH: That's right, uh-huh. A mammogram two days before that showed nothing, in spite of the fact that the lump could be felt by my gynecologist. So--so I had a biopsy and a lumpectomy and went through radiation treatment, and then I had to have another mammogram the following year. I was understandably a little hesitant, a little nervous about that.
That mammogram came back that there were some tissue changes, but that was to be expected, and then my next mammogram six months after that, the person who read that film said she thought there was a problem.
And so I went through a very tense three or four days thinking that the cancer had returned. Dr. Willey ordered a different kind of test, something called a stereotactic needle biopsy, and that turned out to be negative. So I guess the end result is that no matter what I'm told about my mammogram result, that it's positive, that it's negative, I'm not sure how to feel about that.
|False negatives, false positives|
SUSAN DENTZER: That's right. Because in one case you had, in effect, what's a false negative.
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Well, for my mammogram test results, I'm never sure how to react to them because, in the first instance, when it was good news, it turned out to be bad news, and later on when it--I was told it was bad news, it turned out to be good news. So I have no idea how to react to whatever the mammogram result is now.
SUSAN DENTZER: That's dizzying.
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Yeah. Yeah.
SUSAN DENTZER: So do you--do you take mammograms seriously at this point?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Oh, very seriously. I would never miss one, but I'm just not sure how to feel about them. I have mammograms. I have examinations regularly. I had mammograms every six months for a few years after my surgery.
I've had a stereotactic needle biopsy done. This is where, basically, while you're having a mammogram, a needle takes out core tissues, and they can examine those tissues. It's less invasive than surgery.
I had something called a miraluma test, if I have that correctly. It's, I guess, a diagnostic procedure for heart ailments, and on an experimental basis, they were using it, they discovered that they were picking up tumors. So I had one of those, and that was negative.
So I've had all kinds of tests, follow-up tests. I have very good doctors that keep an eye on me.
SUSAN DENTZER: This current controversy is, basically, looking back at some studies that have been done over the years on mammography, and basically what the epidemiologists who looked at this said is you can't literally show that if you subject a group of women to regular mammograms that there literally is a reduction in the breast cancer rate and the death rate from breast cancer.
Does that ring true to you? Does that sound like it's a story that makes sense or--
KERRY DUMBAUGH: I'm not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV, but I guess my feeling would be that if you're just relying on a mammogram by itself, based on my experience, you really may not be getting the whole story. I make sure that I go to doctor regularly. In my case, the mammogram didn't show anything, but the physical exam did.
I guess I would feel more comfortable if there were another kind of screening test that people felt a little bit more confident about. But in the meantime, I'm not sure what other option there is. I think it's foolish to decide, well, I'm not going to get a mammogram, because I do think early detection is critical.
SUSAN DENTZER: Had you felt the lump that you had originally yourself?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: No. No, I had not felt it, but when I--when Dr. Jerome pointed it out to me, it, indeed, felt exactly like those little, the lumps in the little rubber breasts that they give you to let you know what you're feeling for. It felt like there was a ball bearing, a tiny little ball bearing. It was not at all painful. It moved all around, but something that greatly concerned Dr. Willey, certainly, the surgeon.
SUSAN DENTZER: And because you, it was still found at a small stage, you were able to get a lumpectomy and radiation. You didn't have to undergo chemotherapy.
KERRY DUMBAUGH: That's right. My family's experience with breast cancer is, and I think that maybe this was comparable. I was 42 when, when I had this lump. My mother's mother, my mother remembers seeing her mother's cancer visible. My grandmother died of breast cancer. When my mother was in high school, she remembers seeing the visible cancer, and yet my mother went the whole way through college, got out of college and worked a year, got married and had me, and my sister was two years old when my grandmother went to the doctor for the first time.
So that I think is indicative of how--it was too late for her, way too late for her, but earlier she could have been in my position. She could have had a good result if she had gone earlier, but that was a different time.
SUSAN DENTZER: So your grandmother had breast cancer and died of it at what age?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Fifty-six.
SUSAN DENTZER: Your mother has not had breast cancer.
KERRY DUMBAUGH: That's right.
SUSAN DENTZER: Okay. Do you--back to your own personal experience. One thing that the people who are skeptics of mammography say is that because sometimes things are found that are benign or that are very early stages or that even are completely different diagnoses, DCIS, which you probably are aware of, ductal carcinoma in situ, that a lot of women get endlessly--get subjected to treatment, chemotherapy, in some instances, that is very, very difficult on their systems and may or may not be necessary, given what we know about cancers.
So that you run, you could potentially run this risk of getting a mammogram that leads people to think that there's something that you then get treated for all for naught. Based on what you've been through as a survivor, does that sound like something we really ought to be worried about or not?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Well, I don't know how a mammogram would lead to a treatment that wouldn't involve surgery first.
I guess my view is, if there's anything growing in me that shouldn't be there, I want it out. I don't want to wait and monitor it and see what's happening.
But there are so many strides. In my grandmother's case, she had the full mastectomy and pretty much lost the use of her hand or that was possible in those days. I had an axillary excision where they took lymph nodes out. I gather that perhaps that's not always necessary now. So I think--I have to think that at some point in the future, maybe the near future, treatment will be much less invasive and hard on the patient.
SUSAN DENTZER: What do you think people, women, deserve now, in terms of what people should be told about the value of mammography or not by people in a position of authority, the National Cancer Institute, for example?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: I don't really know what the National Cancer Institute feels they should tell people at this point.
I would say that whether it's a mammogram or some other type of test, maybe a PET scan or whatever the new diagnostic procedures are like, that it would be important to make sure that women knew what the options were so that they could elect, they could make a choice about what kind of procedure they wanted. If they weren't comfortable with the track record of a mammogram, perhaps they could, they could pick another kind of diagnostic procedure.
SUSAN DENTZER: And at this point, what is the schedule under which you come back for mammograms?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Well, once again, I, every year, except for this last time, I'm here now as the result of a six-month check-up because, again, they found something that seemed suspicious on the mammogram. I had a--they wanted a six-month check-up, I've just had that, and they've decided it's nothing. So how do I feel about that? I don't know.
SUSAN DENTZER: So you're basically on an every-year schedule, except that the last annual--
KERRY DUMBAUGH: For all of these exceptions, yes, that happened to me.
SUSAN DENTZER: And, finally, in terms of what the medical establishment, overall, should be working toward in the breast cancer field, what do you think is most important? Is it most important to continue to make innovations in screening? Is it most important to continue to make innovations in treatment or all of the above?
KERRY DUMBAUGH: I would say all of the above. I think you have to be quite aggressive when you're dealing with something like cancer that is progressive in its nature. It doesn't get better as time goes on, it gets worse. So anything that has an early diagnosis, better screening procedures, better treatment procedures. So I think, in my seven years with this experience, I think that progress has been made, you know, of those areas.
SUSAN DENTZER: Great. Thanks so much.
KERRY DUMBAUGH: Thank you.