Yesterday, Rita Wilson shared with PEOPLE that she recently had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery following a breast cancer diagnosis. The 58-year-old actress explained her personal health challenge in detail in a statement, and says she hopes her story will help others.
"I have taken a leave from the play Fish in the Dark to deal with a personal health issue," Wilson wrote. "Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma. I am recovering and most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion."
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She also explained how her tough-to-diagnose form of the disease almost slipped through the cracks. "I have had an underlying condition of LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ) which has been vigilantly monitored through yearly mammograms and breast MRIs. Recently, after two surgical breast biopsies, PLCIS (pleomorphic carcinoma in situ) was discovered. I mention this because there is much unknown about PLCIS and it is often found alongside DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). I was relieved when the pathology showed no cancer."
"However, a friend who had had breast cancer suggested I get a second opinion on my pathology and my gut told me that was the thing to do. A different pathologist found invasive lobular carcinoma."
According to Erin Bowman, MD, a breast surgical oncologist at Atlanta Breast Care who is not treating Wilson, PLCIS is a subtype of LCIS. "It is treated more aggressively than usual type LCIS because studies have shown LCIS variants to be more associated with a malignancy," she told Health in an e-mail.
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Wilson consulted with a third pathologist, who confirmed that she has invasive lobular carcinoma, the second most common form of breast cancer. "I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health. You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed is found, which does happen. Early diagnosis is key."
How common is it for pathologists to disagree on whether abnormal-looking cells are indeed a sign of cancer? Surprisingly, it's not as rare as you might think. "A recently reported study out of Seattle found pathologists across the U.S. matched a panel of experts only 75% of the time when looking at breast biopsies," says Dr. Bowman. While the pathologists and the expert panel were most likely to agree on biopsies that were invasive cancer, they were less likely to agree on benign lesions or DCIS (abnormal cells that haven't spread or invaded other tissues, which may be monitored or treated, depending on the circumstances).
"When hospital centers are able to have specialized teams of pathologists that read only breast pathology, the rate of 'missing cancer diagnoses' is usually lower," says Dr. Bowman.
The actress is thankful for not only her breast cancer care, but the support of her family, including husband of almost 27 years, Tom Hanks.
"I feel blessed to have a loving, supportive husband, family, friends and doctors and that I am the beneficiary of advances in the field of breast cancer and reconstruction," Wilson wrote. "I am getting better every day and look forward to renewed health. I hope this will encourage others to get a second opinion and to trust their instincts if something doesn't 'feel' right."