In the debate over whether breast self exams work, many women ask can they really make a difference? Can I find my own cancer? And is it worth trying? A Chicago-area woman says statistics aside, she knows her life was in her own hands, and she made a life saving decision.
Sherry LaCerra, Breast Cancer Survivor: "All my aunts, my grandma, my great grandma."
The number of family members with breast cancer was more than Sherry LaCerra could count on one hand. She knew she was at risk. She did what every doctor told her to.
Sherry LaCerra: "I was doing my yearly mammograms."
After Sherry had her annual mammogram last year, she walked out with a smile -- the screening showed no cancer.
Dr. Robert Maganini, Alexian Brothers Breast Surgeon: "This is a normal, completely normal appearing mammogram. She has, like many young women, very dense breasts, and it's within the density of the breast, that's where a cancer can hide."
But it couldn't hide from Sherry. Nine months before her next mammogram was scheduled, she felt something that made her scared.
Sherry LaCerra: "I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't supposed to be there."
Dr Maganini: "So in August, she gets her standard screening read as normal. And then in December, she finds a lump in her breast on self exam."
Sherry LaCerra: "Because I had continuously done self exams, I knew what my tissue felt like. And I knew whatever this was, it wasn't supposed to be there."
So doctors looked more closely, another mammogram.
Dr. Maganini: "In her left breast, they're trying to see it, and there is some density here, which is really masking. There's nothing obvious here. And what really helped us in this situation, what is usually the case when there's a palpable finding in the breast, is you do an ultrasound."
The ultrasound combined with Sherry's finding confirmed the diagnosis.
Dr. Maganini: "The ultrasound can differentiate a fluid filled sac, which is a cyst in the breast, from a solid lesion, which is a very good way to differentiate between a benign and a malignant lesion."
Sherry LaCerra: "The official cancer diagnosis came in December 28."
Then the whirlwind of surgery to remove the cancer, radiation to make sure not one cell is left and, finally, the examination of a life ahead thanks to a simple act.
Sherry LaCerra: "Self exams are definitely important. Now that I've gone through what I've gone through, they're important."
Dr. Maganini: "Breast self exam is something that is very easy to do and very important for women to do. Half of the patients that I see who have breast cancer, that cancer is found by them."
Sherry LaCerra: "It led to early detection. It led to, because of early detection, the tumor was smaller, and that meant a lumpectomy versus a mastectomy. No chemo. It led to a short time of going through all this."
Some critics worry breast self exams will lead a woman to seek treatment when the lump is benign, but given the number of cancers women do find, breast surgeons say self exams work.
If you would like monthly reminders for breast self exams, text exam to 97999
Breast Self Exams: Can they really make a difference?
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.