By Chaunie Brusie
Breast cancer runs deeply in Dr. Stacey Vitiello’s family. In an article she penned for The Atlantic, Vitiello, MD, detailed how the disease took the lives of four of her great-aunts, was discovered in her cousin at the age of 29, and led to a mastectomy for her paternal grandmother.
Although some of her experience with breast cancer happened when she herself was just a child, the shame, misunderstandings, and eventual change of views she witnessed made such an impact on her that Vitiello decided to dedicate her own life to serving—and advocating for—the early detection of breast cancer. Here, Vitiello shares more about her career, her advocacy work, and her passion for her patients with AXIS Imaging News.
Pathway to Progress
Vitiello practices at the N.J-based Montclair Breast Center and sees patients at the PINK Breast Center, in Flemington, N.J., in addition to writing her own blog, The Breast Diaries. She says the latter outlet helps women stay informed about issues related to breast cancer—something she is clearly very passionate about.
Moreover, her career as a radiologist began with her undergraduate studies at Georgetown University and led to specialty training at Yale University School of Medicine, where she was a breast imaging fellow and named “Fellow of the Year” in the department of radiology in 2000.
Always an advocate for women’s health, Vitiello tells AXIS that as one of the very few breast imaging radiologists in the early 2000s who pushed back against the “giants” in the field who wished to deny the importance of breast density in mammography, she is heartened by the newfound recognition and support for finding new, individualized methods to more effectively screen women for early breast cancer. For instance, she is focused on educating others about the importance of modernizing the mammogram.
“We need to move beyond technology and standards of care from the 1970s to effectively utilize the incredible tools now available to us for early detection, pulling the third-party payers along with us and allowing access to premium care for the majority—rather than just the select few,” she says.
Vitiello believes that abbreviated MRI is the future, possibly with diffusion-weighted and non-contrast. “Just today, a 15-minute MRI at my practice found a highly suspicious mass on a woman in her 40s with a negative dense mammogram and ultrasound,” she says. “MRI is a game-changer in this field. It’s time.”
A Focus on Patients
At the heart of everything she does, whether that be lobbying the FDA for mandatory breast density notification, writing about myths about the “negative” mammogram, or working on research, are the women who—just like in her own family—are affected by breast cancer.
“Being able to tell a patient who followed our personalized screening plan that, ‘Yes, it’s cancer. But it’s early and small, and you’re going to be fine; this is a bump in the long road of your life, and you won’t need chemotherapy,’ [is one of my favorite parts of my work],” Vitiello says. And even on the worst days, when a woman is told she has more advanced breast cancer, Vitiello is grateful for the fact that detection is possible. “Knowing how much worse it would be if she hadn’t been effectively screened—leaving a nasty cancer undetected to do its will—I am thankful for how far our field has come,” she says.
She believes strongly in serving women, even outside of her own practice, by education through her blog, as well as her advocacy work. “Through my years of training and experience, in several different practice environments, I have seen the women who live, and the ones who are diagnosed too late,” she says.
“I have witnessed how certain savvy women (and their doctors) use current medical technology to their best advantage, and save themselves from ever-developing advanced breast cancer,” Vitiello adds.“My goal is to share what I have gleaned with an audience much larger than my own patients, friends, and family, to give them the information they need to prevent this common disease from devastating their lives.”
One of ‘Those’ People
When she’s not working, Vitiello enjoys raising and (mostly) enjoying the teenagers that she shares with her partner, figuring out what to make for dinner without getting cranky (the never-ending parental struggle), cuddling with her pets, and riding her Peloton bike.
“Yes, I’m one of ‘those’ people,” she quips. But we might have to agree that it’s a good thing—for women and families everywhere—that she is.
Chaunie Brusie is associate editor of AXIS Imaging News. Questions and comments can be directed to [email protected].