Now six years later Williams has a message for women. Don't wait until your 50 to begin going for a yearly mammogram.
"We diagnose one breast cancer in women in their forties every week," Dr. Eileen Kenny, Director of the Carilion Breast Care Center said. "The cancers are more aggressive in their forties. They develop faster."
In 2009, a U.S. preventative services task force came out with new guidelines that contradict that. It recommends mammograms beginning at age 50 and only once every two years after that.
Dr. Eileen Kenny says age 50 for the first mammogram is simply too late. She fears many cancers will be missed and only found when it's too late for effective treatment.As B.J. Williams enjoys a beautiful spring day in Elmwood Park at lunchtime this week, she talks about how she survived breast cancer. Williams was 48 years old when she was diagnosed six years ago. She knows that if she had waited until she was fifty to get a mammogram, it would have been too late. "My tumors would have definitely grown could have spread throughout my body." Williams said.
Catching cancer early means women have a much better survival rate, Dr. Kenny said. She believes the task force and its recommendations were flawed.
"No breast imagers were on the force. No breast surgeons were on the force and no medical oncologists, the people that actually diagnose breast cancer on a daily basis," Dr. Kenny said.
If those specialists had been on the task force, Dr. Kenny said, she believes it would have been led in a different direction.
Detecting cancer early is key to survival. "The survival is wonderful if you find breast cancer less than nine millimeters," Kenny said. Nine millimeters is about half the size of a fingertip, something so small many times only a mammogram can detect it.
It's a test breast cancer survivors will tell you can save your life. Karen Robertson's doctors told her she would not have survived if she did not have a mammogram to detect her cancer. "They told me my cancer was the most aggressive on the nuclear scale and if I had waited six more months that cancer would have been everywhere in my body so I wouldn't be here today," Robertson said.
Just this week doctors from a medical group based in Michigan publically opposed the national task force screening guildelines.
Here is a suprising statistic. Dr. Kenny says only 34 percent of women who should get mammograms in the Roanoke Valley actually do.