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Breast cancer survivor raising awareness for dense breast tissue, and the need for additional testing

Jen Rasmussen’s initial mammogram didn’t catch her stage II breast cancer. But Rasmussen—who has dense breast tissue—insisted on additional testing.
After her own experience with breast cancer, Jen Rasmussen (center) became an advocate for extra screening for women with dense breast tissue.

Jen Rasmussen is a working mom with two kids.

As busy as she is, Rasmussen always followed the breast cancer screening guidelines recommended by her doctor, and was diligent about getting mammograms. Each test came back with no concerning findings—but Rasmussen’s radiologist always noted that she had dense breast tissue. Although dense breast tissue is perfectly normal, it is not as transparent on a mammogram screening. This can make it more difficult for care providers to find and diagnose breast cancer.

In late June 2015, Rasmussen was in the shower when she felt a lump in her breast. After worrying and wondering for a few days, Rasmussen went to the Fairview Southdale Breast Center for follow-up screening.

Initially, the spot did not look suspicious, but Rasmussen opted to have a biopsy the following day. On Thursday, July 9, the Breast Center care team delivered the news: Rasmussen had breast cancer. The stage II tumor was approximately 2.5 centimeters wide.

“On the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the regular 2-D mammogram didn’t show anything—but the breast ultrasound and 3-D mammogram did,” Rasmussen said.

Taking action

The Breast Center’s coordinated team sprang into action: within one hour of her diagnosis, Rasmussen had appointments to see Fairview Health Surgeon Paul Benn, MD, Plastic Surgeon David Ruebeck, MD and University of Minnesota Health Hematologist/Oncologist Ahmad Raza, MD.

Raza, a member of University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care, specializes in state-of-the-art cancer treatment. University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care cancer experts—including Raza—collaborate with teams at the Fairview Southdale Breast Center and in other Fairview locations. This partnership ensures that each cancer patient receives the best of both worlds: University of Minnesota Health’s academic medical expertise and Fairview’s patient-focused convenience.

University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care offers breast cancer patients an individualized care plan and comprehensive, leading-edge treatment. Learn more about our care.

“University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care aims to provide the same experience—and the same comprehensive level of care—across all of the clinics and hospitals in our system,” Raza said.

During treatment, Raza ensures that each of his patients and their families are well-informed and educated about the disease process, treatments and expected outcomes.

After a consultation with him, Rasmussen was ready to move forward.

“After the appointments on Friday, July 10, I felt like I had all of the information I needed and was very comfortable moving forward with surgery,” she said. Rasmussen underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction on July 22, just two weeks after her diagnosis.

Her surgery went smoothly. The procedure was followed by four months of chemotherapy to ensure that all the cancerous cells were eliminated from her body. Rasmussen approached chemotherapy with the same positive, proactive attitude she had kept during every step of the process. She credits her family, friends, and a supportive work environment for helping her get through it all. Her husband, Einer Rasmussen and her mother, Ann Neuser, were particularly supportive. Rasmussen’s mother provided child care for her two children. Among other helpful actions, Einer helped Rasmussen shave her head during chemo.

“That’s definitely not something I ever thought my hubby would have to do,” Rasmussen said, laughing.

Raza and other members of her cancer care team were also invaluable.

“There’s a lot of anxiety that comes along with cancer treatment, but Dr. Raza and his team were there throughout the process to answer questions and calm me down,” Rasmussen said.

The end of treatment—and the start of advocacy

At the beginning of 2016, Rasmussen and her family celebrated the end of her treatment. As she reflected on her experience, she began to wonder what her outcome might have been if she hadn’t insisted on additional testing for the lump in her breast.

This prompted Rasmussen to become a breast cancer awareness advocate. She began to share her story with friends and colleagues, urging them to ask for breast ultrasounds or 3D mammograms—particularly if they had dense breast tissue. Two of her friends followed her advice, and caught breast cancer at stage I, when it is often easier to treat.

“It’s important to advocate for yourself and for your own health. Jen has taken it one step further. She is raising awareness among people she knows and those in the wider community,” Raza said. “What she is doing is really awesome, and it tells you a lot about the kind of person she is.”

Rasmussen made it her personal mission to promote additional screenings for women with dense breast tissue. To help spread the word, she reached out to her friends and acquaintances on social media to encourage them to be proactive about annual screenings.

“When you go through cancer, it changes your life forever,” said Raza. “To take your experience and use it for the betterment of others, as Jen has, is a truly remarkable change.”