Spa-like experience helps lessen anxiety of annual mammograms

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it's is always a good time to remind women to get their yearly mammogram. Getting a mammogram can be a nerve racking experience, between the anxiety and discomfort some women are simply putting it off. New technology means they don't have to.

This year Lisa Vega is having her yearly mammogram at GE's Sensory Suite. It's designed to helps patients relax and forget about the pain. The spa like experience includes nature videos, soothing sounds, soft lighting and even aromatherapy. "The whole room is almost like a spa like experience. It smells good the colors are great the sounds are very soothing." Lisa Vega said.

Radiologists like Doctor Sue Jane Grosso Rivas say the relaxing features are very helpful, "Because they are tense they may not allow the adequate positioning and compression that they need. If we are going to get a good image we need them to be as relaxed as possible." Grosso Rivas said.

That's not the only technology Summit Medical Group implemented to improve women's comfort during a mammogram. This machine is also equipped with Duetta technology. That means the patient can control the strength of the compressions. "The technologist positions the patient the technologist does the initial compression but that last part the patient is the one that has the control, " Gross Rivas said. The patient is given a remote to either increase or decrease the compression. "Whether I do compress more or lessen the compression just the idea that i know i have the ability to do so made a difference for me," Vega said. Doctor Grosso Rivas says in many cases, when patients are in control they actually compress more, making for a better exam.

Another technology taking the pain out of mammograms is the Smart Curve Paddle. It uses a rounded plate rather than flat. "It actually mirrors the shape of a woman’s breast. It provides an even distribution of compression when we come down on the breast and the patient feels less pain less discomfort," technologist Fran Vitale from Suffolk Breast Imaging said. "It doesn’t hurt as much as it did before," Smart Curve Patient Linda Garfolo said. While the mammogram with the smart curve paddle feels different, radiologist Doctor Alexandra Perkins says 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," Dr. Perkins said.

Not everyone agrees, imaging physicist for University of Colorado Denver, Rebecca Marsh has stopped using the smart curve paddle. "The image quality didn’t look as good as it does with a standard paddle," Marsh said.

Marsh understands the focus on comfort, but has concerns about the trend to make mammograms more like a trip to the spa. "It's incumbent on the healthcare community to make sure that is not at the expense of image quality," Marsh said. But Doctor Grosso Rivas say anything that can be done to encourage women to get a mammogram , will save lives. "We know the earlier you detect breast cancer the better outcome, so creating an environment like this makes a big difference," Grosso Rivas said.