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How a breast cancer screening saved my life

A few months shy of her 25th birthday, Sydneysider Yvette Luciano was offered her dream job at Sony Music and was on track to fulfil her vision of starting her own music touring and management company. To top things off, that same year she met the love of her life.

In 2010 newly married Luciano was relaxing on her honeymoon in a beachside suite in a Fijian resort. After swimming all day, she showered and began preparing for dinner. That’s when she discovered a lump in her left breast, which changed her life forever.

Following a suspicious ultrasound, Luciano was sent to a breast cancer specialist centre where she had a biopsy and mammogram. “From that they were able to conclusively diagnose that it was definitely breast cancer,” she says. She was 29.

Yvette Luciano

Yvette Luciano: “My doctor said ‘it’s probably nothing, but let’s ultrasound anyway’. And that decision is a decision that probably saved my life.”

Filled with shock and denial, Luciano was convinced the diagnosis was a mistake; that her doctors had made an error. Unfortunately, they hadn’t.

lumpectomy followed and then an operation where the doctors learned the cancer was spreading to her lymph nodes.

“They said, ‘we’re not satisfied the surgery was sufficient so we want to go back in and remove the whole breast.’ I was about to turn 30 and I cancelled my 30th birthday party to have a mastectomy.”

Luciano was also told the cancer had spread into her sternum – or breastbone. “I had a couple of little spots there, but luckily all of my organs and everything else was clear.”

It was certainly a wake up call. Following a cocktail of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Luciano moved to the Sunshine Coast and has taken a more holistic approach to life. Now a writer, speaker and entrepreneur, she has founded a professional business, marketing and mentoring company called Soulpreneurs for aspiring authors, speakers, healers and coaches.

She practices yoga and meditation and produces practical foodie tours, fitness events, nutritional seminars and spiritual workshops through her company, Earth HQ.

She is managing her cancer with endocrine therapy, also known as hormone therapy. “I still have a couple of spots in my bones. The cancer was extremely oestrogen receptive so now that they’ve completely blocked my oestrogen, chemically and medically, it means the little spots in my bones are there but they’re not growing.”

Luciano says if it wasn’t for her doctor and the machines that discovered her lump, things could have turned out a lot worse. “I went to my GP and she said, ‘it’s probably nothing, but let’s get it checked anyway’.

“Because of the ultrasound they were able to tell pretty much straight away that there was something suspicious. I’m so thankful I had a doctor who took it seriously because you hear about young women whose doctors tell them not to worry about it, to leave it and check it again in 3 or 6 months time. Had my doctor done that, that would have been a big problem,” she says.

“Because of the ultrasound they were able to tell pretty much straight away that there was something suspicious.”

Because mammograms don’t always detect cancers in dense breasts – and many women under 40 don’t elect for mammograms unless there is a history of breast cancer in the family – researchers have been studying the effectiveness of other screening methods.

An Australian study published in March and reported by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found adding 3D mammography (also called digital tomosynthesis or breast ultrasound) to regular screening mammograms, can detect more cancers in dense breasts.

3D mammography can pick up lesions that are often hidden in standard 2D mammography. GE’s 3D imaging technology, SenoClaire breast tomosynthesis, uses a low-dose short X-ray sweep around the compressed breast – with only nine exposures – to generate a series of tomo-planes. These are processed electronically to reconstruct a 3D representation of the entire breast.

“Twenty-nine year olds don’t have mammograms,” says Luciano. “I should have been doing self-checks, which I didn’t realise I was supposed to be doing at that age. I wish I had known that, and I wish I’d been doing that and paying attention to it. I probably would have been able to feel it a lot earlier and caught it earlier. It probably wouldn’t have already started spreading.”

Luciano says she has no history of breast cancer in her family at all.

“Not one woman in my family on either side of my parents has ever had cancer. Both my grandmothers are alive and well in their 80’s with no breast cancer. I also got tested for genetics and I don’t have any of the breast cancer genes.

“My doctor said ‘it’s probably nothing, but let’s ultrasound anyway’. And that decision is a decision that probably saved my life.”

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