A more comfortable mammogram

Templeton-based Radiology Associates mammography technologist Aubrey Stromnes explains one of the company’s new SmartCurve breast stabilization systems for use with digital 3D mammography. (Photo by Camas Frank)

TEMPLETON Since September, Radiology Associates in Templeton has been offering more comfortable mammograms with a pair of new machines at their office.

Part of an annual check-up routine for women over 40, and an occasional medical diagnostic for men and younger women who’ve noticed an issue, mammograms have a notorious reputation of inflicting discomfort.

The pinching, squeezing and flattening of tissue which prefers more considerate handling hasn’t been entirely eliminated with new technology, but manufacturers of the SmartCurve breast stabilization system cite a study of more than 10,000 patients showing improved comfort in 93 percent of women who also reported moderate to severe discomfort with standard techniques.

Aubrey Stromnes, a mammography technologist with Radiology Associates, gives anecdotal evidence as well that her patients have been far happier with the new procedure than past experience.

“We’re getting a lot of word-of-mouth marketing and traffic from Facebook, too,” she said, adding that women who’ve skipped the scan for a decade have returned after hearing that the center was offering a better alternative than the old days. “Every woman, every breast, is different but 93 percent of women surveyed said it’s more comfortable and that seems to hold true. Many have been fearful of a negative experience but the reality is you have a choice when it comes to healthcare.”

While the 3D scan offering a computer-generated image in real time is a nice trick, Stromnes adds that it still takes processing time with a patient’s primary care physician before results are known. The technology itself she said is an evolution of the X-ray techniques developed over decades but uses “about as much radiation as you would get from sitting in the sun for an hour,” and far less than CAT or PET scans.

When the company first offered 3D scans, she said, it was as a sort of optional extra, but with the new equipment, they’re waiving extra fees if a patient’s insurance won’t cover it.

“Were the only center nearby that offers it and we’d rather someone not have to drive a long way out of the area to be seen,” she said, adding that each of the two machines they acquired was worth around $500,000, with a separate suite for the software that makes it all possible, and the biopsy capability which reduces the need for follow up ultrasounds and other procedures.

The machine itself takes four image sets, left, right, and sides, with help from the tech to get the breast in place for the scan on what looks like a carbon fiber shelf with a clear plastic tray descending on a slider to sandwich things in place.

While the innovation of putting a curve in the top of said tray — to better accommodate human anatomy — seems like a straightforward improvement, the computer’s ability to process the image needed to evolve first. With the new technology “digital compression algorithms” were engineered to replace, or compensate for, some physical manipulation and produce a readable image.

The advantage, in addition to comfort, Stromnes demonstrated on the display terminal attached to the device, is that an anomaly can be “zeroed in” for a biopsy. That is it maintains uniform presentation as the image moves instead of forcing a search across static pictures.

While breast self-examines should be conducted regularly and the American Cancer Society recommends mammograms annually, the procedure isn’t on the top of most women’s to do list Stromnes said, so Radiology Associates tries to keep their barriers to access low. Their website offers lists of all the insurers accepted and contact information, but walk-in appointments are still available from 6 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.

“It’s something that you can get done if you’re just in the neighborhood,” she said, but allows that it might take more organization for some, “there are options through the NOOR Clinic and others if you don’t have a primary physician to go over the results.”

Would be patients can also have the office call them by filling out the appointment form online at: rasloimaging.com/2d-3d-mammography-appointments-form.

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