Olivia Newton-John, 77, was open about her breast cancer journey following her diagnosis in 1992. In a new video to mark the launch of the Olivia Newton-John Foundation, the actress revealed that her initial mammogram didn’t catch her breast cancer. She received a mammogram and a needle biopsy, both of which came back benign. The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 20 percent of mammograms are false negative, which for some can delay treatment and create a false sense of security.
However, Newton-John immediately knew something was wrong, she says in the video. “I’m not saying this to scare women, but you just have to trust your instincts.”
She describes the meeting with her surgeon, who then performed a surgical biopsy. Surgical biopsies, which experts often recommend when other diagnostic methods are inconclusive or there is reason to believe that further investigation is needed, include an incision to access the suspicious area of cells, according to the Mayo Clinic. In Newton-John’s case, her surgeon found breast cancer in her right breast, removed the lump, and sent her to an oncologist. Newton-John then underwent a mastectomy and nine months of chemotherapy. She has also incorporated acupuncture, massage, meditation, and cannabis into her lifestyle under the guidance of a doctor
“All of this was overwhelming,” she says. “It was a feeling of fear and terror of the unknown.”
Newton-John was in remission until 2013 when the cancer metastasized outside of her breasts. By 2017, it had reached stage 4 breast cancer and spread to her spine. She founded the Olivia Newton-John Foundation to help others overcome their breast cancer diagnoses.
“I am very excited to set up this foundation and offer child therapies for people who suffer from cancer and live with cancer,” she says in the video. “And to give them more tools and information they need to live happier, healthier, friendlier lives.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women, after skin cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that one in eight women will develop breast cancer. Hence, while regular mammograms, while not always perfect, are still a mandatory preventive measure. The U.S. Working Group on Preventive Services recommends women have a mammogram every two years once they are over 50 years old. However, a mammogram before age 50 may be needed if you have certain risk factors, such as a first degree relative such as a parent.
Breast cancer checkups can also be helpful early detection measures. According to the Mayo Clinic, some symptoms of breast cancer include a breast lump, a change in breast size or shape, a newly inverted nipple, and dimples on the breast skin. Finding something like a new lump in your breast is definitely not always a sign of cancer – it can be something like a benign cyst. These usually move easily and are delicate in contrast to breast cancer tumors, which tend to be hard, immobile, and not painful, as SELF previously reported. But even if you’re pretty sure that a lump you developed is something like a cyst, if you are at all concerned, see your doctor – even if nothing was wrong with your most recent screening like a mammogram .