New mammogram technique promises less discomfort

Mammograms are vital in the early detection of breast cancer. Still,  most women dread them.

Linda Garofolo, a patient at Suffolk imaging called her yearly mammogram, "Painful, uncomfortable.  It's 2 pieces of plastic that flatten your breast down and it hurts."

But this year when Linda Garofalo went for her mammogram felt completely different.

"Not as uncomfortable," Garofolo said.

That's because Linda's radiologist is using the Smart Curve paddle with a 3D mammography machine. 

Smart Curve uses a rounded plate rather than flat mirrors the shape of a woman’s breast.  It provides an even distribution of compression, according to doctors.

"The patient feels less pain, less discomfort, " said Suffolk Breast Imaging Clinical Coordinator Fran Vitale.

Patients have noticed the difference.

"They say, 'wow that wasn’t so bad' or 'did you press enough?' and I say, 'yes we did'," Vitale said.

While the mammogram feels different, some radiologists say it doesn't look different.

"There is really no way to tell when I sit at my work station who was done with the Smart Curve and who was done with normal 3D," said radiologist Dr. Alexandra Perkins.

But some experts have concerns about the Smart Curve Paddle.

"The image quality didn’t look as good as it does with a standard paddle. There were, we call them non-uniformities.  It sort of looked brighter along that chest wall edge than it would with that flat paddle. It’s really making it more difficult to see anything, " said Imaging Physicist for the University of Colorado Denver, Rebecca Marsh.

She has told her facilities to hold off using the curved paddles.  Marsh understands the focus on comfort but has concerns.

"It’s incumbent on the healthcare community to make sure that is not at the expense of image quality," Marsh says.

Women's comfort during a mammogram is important. If it hurts too much they may skip regular exams, missing a critical diagnosis.

"Somebody may not have been here for 4 5 years and I ask 'Why are you missing your appointments?' They are afraid and they are anxious they don’t want the pain they don’t want the discomfort." Vitale says.

But no matter the pain it's important to get a mammogram.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36.  I’ve had many, many mammograms under not ideal situations post biopsy. Having a mammogram is uncomfortable but it’s a lot better than having to go through cancer treatments," Marsh says.

While the American Cancer Society and US Preventive Services Task Force say women should have their first mammogram between 45 and 50 years of age, the American Society of Breast Surgeons and American College of Cardiology still recommend women begin yearly mammograms at 40.

The best advice, consult with your doctor.