Many women have courageously shared their stories of confronting breast cancer: of going through chemotherapy and radiation, of losing their hair and appetites, of having their breasts removed.

But there are also women who were fortunate enough to have a tumor detected before it became cancer. And their tales provide a valuable lesson as well.

Cathy Tinsley, of Dyer, is one of those lucky ones.

Four years ago this month, during a regular mammogram, her radiologist saw something that looked suspicious. A biopsy revealed she had atypical ductal hyperplasia, a type of precancerous lesion. She got the results on Halloween.

She had the cells in question removed. Subsequent mammograms and breast MRIs in the intervening years have come back clean.

"Luckily now, with the mammograms being widely implemented, now we see more and more precancerous lesions, and are able to talk to these patients about the importance of prevention," said Dr. Mohamad Kassar, an oncologist affiliated with Community Healthcare System.

Tinsley's sister was not quite as lucky.

Several years ago, she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. She had to have months of chemotherapy and radiation, a mastectomy and a hysterectomy. Tinsley saw the toll it took on her sibling and her family.

"Compared to what my sister went through, it was a walk in the park," Tinsley said of her own experience. "It could have been so much worse. That's why early detection is key."

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Tinsley and her sister had both started mammograms in their 30s because their paternal grandmother had suffered from breast cancer.

Tinsley, 49, got all her health care done through her employer, Community Healthcare System, where she works in data analytics.

"I know a lot of people choose to go into the city to get treatment," she said. "We have such tremendous resources here ... There's a lot here in Northwest Indiana for people who have a cancer diagnosis."

Thanks to the increase in mammogram technology, many precancerous spots, some as small as a grain of sand, are found nowadays, said Dr. Mary Nicholson, a breast radiologist with Community Healthcare System.

She said Tinsley's condition was "very treatable." "We call it stage 0 curable breast cancer — curable 99% of the time without chemotherapy," she said.

She said that taking an anti-estrogen medication after a pre-cancer diagnosis can help reduce the chances of a positive biopsy in the future.

"I know we'd love as a medical community if we could prevent breast cancer," she said. "Sadly of course, as you can imagine, it's complex on many levels. But here's an opportunity where we can prevent breast cancer by detecting it when it's just a precancerous lesion."

Added Tinsley: "If anything, I hope this story encourages people to get their mammograms and be diligent and proactive about getting their care."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.