Meet Dr. Nila Alsheik, Medical Advisor for My Density Matters July 13, 2023
Dr. Nila Alsheik, radiologist and Radiology Director of the Caldwell Breast Center at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Illinois, knows first-hand the challenge of finding cancer in dense breasts.
“My job is to look at pictures on a computer, whether that’s from a mammogram, an ultrasound, an MRI, or a CT scan, and make a diagnosis,” she said, adding, “We’re looking for a white mass or white calcifications, and if the patient has completely white breast tissue because they’re dense, it’s like looking for a snowman in and a snowstorm.”
As if that weren’t enough of an obstacle to breast cancer screening, Alsheik also points to conflicting guidelines, noting the United States Preventative Services Task Force says mammograms should be initiated at age 50 and completed every other year. (Now a draft update to their guidelines suggest mammograms starting at 40 biannually.) But Alsheik and her partners disagree. “We recommend annual screenings, beginning at age 40, and above all, always with a 3D mammogram. I can’t tell you how many women have had cancers missed because they’re still doing 2D mammograms in major metropolitan areas.”
As a medical advisor for My Density Matters, Alsheik is hoping to empower women to advocate for themselves when it comes to getting the proper screening for dense breasts.
“If you’re dense-breasted, ask your provider to have a whole breast ultrasound on a yearly basis, every year. You can either have [the 3D mammogram and ultrasound] on one appointment time or staggered every six months, but make sure you get the additional tests that you need, they save lives,” she stated.
Alsheik also understands personally the genetic risk of breast cancer. In early 2023, when her sister and aunt both received a diagnosis for breast cancer, she learned her grandmother also had breast cancer. “They hid it from the family. All those years I labored under the delusion that I was average risk, and meanwhile, the whole time I was high risk,” she said. Looking ahead, she predicts genetic testing will become more widely used as a tool to screen patients for breast cancer.
Dr. Alsheik chose the field of breast radiology recognizing the value of screening mammograms, and when she met My Density Matters Executive Director Leslie Ferris Yerger, she was immediately impressed with her work.
“Leslie is literally trying to move mountains here across America by empowering patients to check their chart and be educated about what their density is so they can be appropriately screened,” she said. “It was really a privilege to be offered the opportunity to work with her and to work on this cause further.”
My Density Matters is here to answer your questions and make sure you are informed and empowered to take control of your breast cancer screening. Check Your Chart™ and learn more about reading your mammogram report and sign up for the My Density Matters newsletter to stay up-to-date about the latest recommendations.
Meet other members of the My Density Matters Medical Advisory Board.