New technology may spare mammogram patients from pinch

New technology may spare mammogram patients from pinch

URBANA — It's not the most painful medical experience in the world, but a mammogram may well rank as one of the more uncomfortable tests women are faced with for the sake of their health.

Now, thousands of women in the area are poised to undergo this periodic breast cancer screening with less of the painful pinch that comes with a standard mammogram.

The Carle health system equipped all its facilities last month with new mammography equipment — curved compression paddles designed to better fit the shape of a woman's breast.

The paddle is the upper surface used in a mammogram to press down on the breast and spread it out across a flat lower plate to obtain front and side X-ray views.

In a conventional mammogram, each breast is compressed between two flat upper and lower plates, which some women find uncomfortable or painful.

The curved upper paddle was designed to make a mammogram more comfortable without sacrificing the accuracy of the images, according to Carle.

Carle did more than 21,000 mammograms last year and has been getting positive responses from women undergoing mammograms recently with the new comfort paddles.

"For most women, we're finding this is a more comfortable experience for them," said Pattie McCord, director of imaging for Carle's eastern region.

Because breast shapes vary from woman to woman, McCord said technologists may sometimes still use the flat compression paddle on a case-by-case basis if they find the curved one isn't providing the compression needed.

Still, she said, "I always start with the curved paddle."

Carle's new mammography equipment was purchased with a gift from its fundraising arm, the Carle Center for Philanthropy.

The equipment maker, Hologic Inc., said its SmartCurve system more evenly distributes the pressure over the breast to reduce pinching.

Research cited by the company found seven out of 10 women experience some degree of pain during a mammogram, and 93 percent of women who reported moderate to severe discomfort with standard compression said they found the curved paddle to be more comfortable.

A more comfortable mammogram could also potentially boost compliance with recommended breast cancer screenings — though pain and discomfort aren't the only reasons some women skip mammograms.

The lifetime risk for breast cancer remains one out of eight for women, but only about 66 percent of women 40 and older had a mammogram within the past two years, according to the most recent data available (2015) from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram for women ages 45-54, and the organization advises women 55 and older to either switch to mammograms every other year or continue with annual screening. The advice for women ages 40-44 is that mammograms should be an individual choice.

Christie Clinic has been using a "flex paddle" for mammograms for quite some time, clinic spokeswoman Jenna Koss said.

The flex paddle, used in 2-D mammograms, still compresses the breast, but it adjusts slightly to the breast tissue — as opposed to a rigid paddle doing the compressing, according to Koss.