November 12, 2019

A. Janae Johnson, MD

Diagnostic Radiology, TPMG Imaging and Breast Center

 

Breast imaging is a unique field, both highly technical and incredibly intimate. Specialists must pivot from analyzing digital images for tiny changes in patterns to walking patients through a diagnosis that often alters their views of themselves. 

Dr. Janae Johnson has embraced that challenge, building a patient-focused practice that can often offer same-day needle biopsies to women who need them, alleviating the added anxiety of waiting for days or weeks for a follow-up. In fact, pathologists often are able to report results within 48 hours.

A fellowship trained breast imaging specialist, Dr. Johnson also is a hands-on physician who performs her own physical exams and ultrasounds. She loves supporting patients from diagnosis through treatment, forming close relationships with each of them. 

“The hardest part of my job is telling someone she has breast cancer,” Dr. Johnson says. “It’s also the most important part, because my goal is to transition them from the initial panic of a cancer diagnosis to focusing on the plan for treatment. Far and away, this is a very treatable disease, and most of them will do beautifully.”   

Increasingly, advances such as 3D mammography and breast MRI are leading to earlier diagnosis of cancer and fewer callbacks for patients due to asymmetric tissue or superimposed tissue layers. 

3D technology provides a much clearer view of tissue slices than standard two-dimensional mammography. “Instead of just seeing the top and side of a book, you’re able to leaf through all the pages,” Dr. Johnson explains. 

Breast MRI enables the radiologist to look inside the breast, mapping out blood flow and generating detailed images that help more accurately determine the extent of cancer before surgery. It is also an additional screening tool for women with a lifetime risk of 20 percent or greater, based on factors such as family history, genetic mutations, previous precancerous breast changes or radiation treatments.  

Dr. Johnson hopes these improved technologies will soon reach even more women, as insurance coverage expands and MRI testing becomes shorter and less expensive. She also stresses that annual screening mammograms are critical from age 40 until a woman reaches a point in life where she would no longer treat a cancer if diagnosed. Randomized control studies have found up to a 40 percent decrease in mortality rates with regular screening.  

“We can find cancer sometimes years before it would be palpable, often before there’s any nodal disease,” she says. “This may eliminate the need for chemotherapy and also increases the surgical treatment options – for example, a patient may have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy.” 

No matter what the diagnosis, Dr. Johnson works hard to build trust with her patients, carefully explaining biopsy results, arranging appointments with surgeons and scheduling MRI tests as necessary. 

“I love to be in the forefront of finding cancers early, but I also love the personal conversations I get to have – hearing about people’s families, travels, books they’re reading,” she says. “It’s a special opportunity to guide them through a difficult time.” 

Surprisingly, Dr. Johnson didn’t consider medicine as a career until after college. The child of a military father, she moved to Williamsburg in grade school and graduated from Walsingham Academy. She studied psychology at the College of William & Mary, getting a taste for medicine as a cardiac technician and EMT for the Williamsburg Volunteer Rescue Squad and a behavioral counselor at Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents in New Kent County. 

After college, Dr. Johnson lived in Washington, D.C., while taking prerequisite classes for medical school at George Mason University. Upon completion, she worked as a clinical research coordinator with an infectious disease expert at a Newport News HIV Clinic as she filled out medical school applications. That experience cemented her desire to go into healthcare.  

While waiting to start medical school, Dr. Johnson completed a master’s degree in Anatomy at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She wrote her thesis on depression and apathy in brain tumor patients and volunteered at the Fan Free Clinic in Richmond.  

Through this, radiology was not even on her radar. Wanting to interact directly with patients daily, she thought she would choose a specialty such as internal medicine. “I literally said in my medical school interview, “I know I can knock radiology off my list,” she recalls with a laugh. 

Continuing at VCU for medical school, Dr. Johnson gravitated toward specialties that focused on women, including OB/GYN and internal medicine with a women’s health track. She discovered breast imaging during a third-year rotation. 

“I knew immediately that was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. “I went into radiology just to do breast imaging.” 

Dr. Johnson completed a year-long internship at Riverside Regional Medical Center, followed by a four-year residency in Diagnostic Radiology and a year-long fellowship in Diagnostic Breast Imaging at VCU’s Department of Radiology. She came to TPMG Imaging and Breast Center, which has offices in Newport News and Williamsburg, in 2011. 

Dr. Johnson has been married to Dr. Raj Sureja for 15 years; they have four children, ages 5 to 11. She enjoys traveling, cooking, running, skiing, surfing, playing golf – albeit badly – and especially spending time with family and friends. 

Work, though, is a pleasure too. 

“I absolutely love what I do,” she says. “I get to talk with amazing women all day. They are part of my journey and I am part of theirs. It’s my privilege to help them get past what will hopefully just be a temporary hurdle in a long life.”