Detecting the Odds: The Future of Breast Cancer Risk Management
Education & Research The average 30-something isn’t worried about breast cancer. But Samantha Golkin Nigliazzo knew better. In her family, the disease was something that could strike at any age.
Samantha’s mother had passed away from the disease when she was just seven years old. Her aunt died from it before turning 35. Her maternal grandmother had a mastectomy during her 50s. For Samantha, breast cancer was a painfully familiar part of her life since she was in her early 20s. Unfortunately, because of her age, it wasn’t always the easiest process.
A family history
“I had a breast specialist who wrote me prescriptions to get mammograms and sonograms because of my family history,” Samantha said. “Even with prescriptions, it was very difficult for me to get appointments at screening locations or to secure payments from insurance companies, because I was young. Facilities wouldn’t want to schedule me because of my age.”
Luckily for Samantha, a sympathetic radiologist referred her to the Special Surveillance program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center after learning about her difficulties securing appointments. The long-term program, designed for women with an increased risk for developing breast cancer, offers participants a variety of breast imaging options and support. With her wedding just four months away, Samantha, with support from her fiancé David, decided to go ahead with a baseline screening before the big day.
“We wanted to have a clean bill of health before we started our new life together,” Samantha said.
“We wanted to have a clean bill of health before we started our new life together.”
So in August 2013, Samantha went in for a mammogram and her first-ever MRI as a form of secondary screening. Both showed a small spot in her right breast about the size of a pencil tip. Her doctors asked Samantha to return for a spot mammogram and biopsy, from which they discovered the small cluster of cells were malignant.
Discoveries through research
“The doctors told me, ‘we found some malignant cells. It’s cancer,’” Samantha said. “Because of my family history, it wasn’t a shocking piece of information. I was diagnosed with stage 0 cancer, also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — the earliest form of breast cancer]. It was because of breast cancer research and advancements by scientists and doctors that something so miniscule and microscopic—just cells in a duct—was detected.”