55KRC: Death of Olivia Newton-John highlights breast cancer survivorship

Olivia Newton-John died last week, according to her family. While no cause of death has been announced, the actress and singer had been open about her battle with breast cancer that began in 1992. Newton-John's story demonstrates that a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence, as she lived for many years after initial diagnosis.

Elizabeth Shaughnessy, MD, PhD, professor and vice chair of patient experience in the University of Cincinnati's Department of Surgery in the College of Medicine, a UC Health breast cancer surgeon, president of the Association of Women Surgeons and a breast cancer survivor, joined 55KRC's Simply Medicine program to discuss breast cancer survivorship and the importance of screening.

Shaughnessy said even decades after initial diagnosis, cancer cells can recur after remaining dormant for years.

"Sometimes we have small cells that can escape and they can travel elsewhere, oftentimes to the bone marrow," she told Simply Medicine. "It’s an area of active research, why do these sometimes start to grow after decades of being dormant. It’s hard to know. We do know that some subsets of breast cancer can recur, and they can recur decades down the line."

Shaughnessy encouraged women to advocate for themselves when they feel something is off, even if mammograms do not detect anything. She noted the recent passage of House Bill 371 will help women with dense breast tissue that can obscure cancers on mammograms to receive other, more effective screenings.

"If I feel something that’s a little off, I am going to be biopsying it just simply because not everything is going to be detected," Shaughnessy said. "Even in myself, I found a mass on self-exam right before I was supposed to have a screening mammogram."

Listen to the Simply Medicine segment. (Note: Segment begins around 29:03 mark.) 

Read more about Shaughnessy's breast cancer journey.

Featured photo at top of a 3D mammogram machine. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

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