A Softer Mammogram Cooley Dickinson Hospital Now Offers A More Comfortable Screening

Mammograms have proven to be an effective method of catching early-stage breast cancer, but many women put them off, for many reasons — one of which is discomfort.


That’s why doctors at Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH) are enthusiastic about the Woman’s Touch MammoPad, a new product that helps ease the discomfort many women feel when they undertake mammograms. The Northampton facility is the first Western Mass. hospital to offer the product.

A soft, foam cushion, the MammoPad is designed to provide a more comfortable and warmer mammogram — a test that won’t cause as much anxiety for women considering having one.

“It’s a fact — some woman delay or avoid their annual mammograms because of varying degrees of pain and discomfort,” said Dr. Charles J. Bernstein, chief of Radiology at CDH.

Maureen Maloney, the hospital’s Women’s Imaging Center supervisor, agreed, saying that some women do experience pain, pinching, and skin stretching. “To help ease this pain, we provide the MammoPad to our patients,” she said. “Women say the pad provides support and cushioning during the procedure.”
Easy Does It

A single-use, adhesive-backed form cushion, the MammoPad attaches to the compression plates of the mammography machine. It was developed by Dr. Gale Lebovic, a Stanford University breast surgeon who recognized that discomfort often plays a factor for women in deciding to be screened.
According to its manufacturer, Biolucent, the MammoPad is made from material cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and are free of latex and image-clouding artifacts.

“We see the MammoPad as an extension of providing the highest quality of care and the best experience for our patients,” Maloney said, adding that the CDH team of 15 mammographers are registered mammography technologists and licensed by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Even so, Debra Giordano, one of those technologists, wasn’t prepared to offer the product to patients before experiencing it herself. So, when she was scheduled for her annual mammogram in January, Giordano, 51, tried it out, requesting the foam cushion for one side only, and using traditional equipment on the other side.
“I noticed a difference,” she said. “I really experienced extra comfort around my upper rib and breast areas. The pad cushioned my ribs against the edge of the plate and prevented potential rubbing.”

She was quick to note, however, that the pad is invisible to X-rays and does not interfere with the image quality of the mammogram.

“Women should know that the MammoPad does not obscure abnormalities that could potentially be found during an annual mammogram,” Giordano said, adding that older patients with frail skin and others who have had chest surgery will benefit most from the MammoPad.

A Matter of Compliance

And by making it more comfortable to get a mammogram, the Women’s Imaging Center hopes to see an increase in the number of women complying with recommendations for annual screenings.

Statistics from the American Cancer Society (ACS) suggest that women can reduce their risk of death from breast cancer by more than 60{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} if they receive regular mammograms, one of a series of comprehensive breast health services available at CDH.

According to the ACS, breast cancer takes years to develop, and early in the disease, most breast cancers cause no symptoms. When breast cancer is detected in the localized stage, when it hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 97{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}. If the cancer has spread regionally to underarm lymph nodes, the rate drops to 79{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}. And if the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to distant organs such as the lungs, bone marrow, liver, or brain, the five-year survival rate plummets to 23{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}.

And advancing technology is increasing the survival odds even more. For instance, while the MammoPad simply helps to cushion the breast and improve the patient’s experience, CDH’s R2 ImageChecker, a digital detection method for mammography, helps radiologists detect subtle signs of early-stage breast cancer more effectively than older machines did.

The ACS counters some women’s concerns about the radiation produced by a mammogram by noting that the modern technique uses a low dose, usually 0.1 to 0.2 rads per picture. To put that into perspective, the organization notes, a woman who receives radiation for breast cancer will receive several thousand rads, but yearly mammograms from age 40 through age 90 will wind up totaling just 20 to 40 rads.

A different type of X-ray is used for the breasts than for other parts of the body, the ACS explains. This type of X-ray does not penetrate tissue as easily as the X-ray used for routine chest films or X-rays of the arms or legs. For a mammogram, the breast is squeezed between two plates to spread the tissue apart and to allow a lower dose of radiation. Although this might not be a pleasant feeling, the discomfort only lasts for a few seconds; the entire procedure for a mammogram takes about 20 minutes.

Saving Lives

The MammoPad promises to drastically cut down on even that minor discomfort, CDH doctors say. And considering how many advantages the hospital’s newest mammography equipment boasts — both in accuracy and, now, comfort — Bernstein said there’s no reason not to take annual screenings seriously.

“Mammograms identify abnormalities — masses or calcifications — that a woman’s self-exam wouldn’t detect for many years,” he said. “Although one in eight women develop breast cancer in her lifetime, only one in 20 develop invasive breast cancer. Detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages when it is most treatable truly saves lives.”

The MammoPad is available to women who get their mammograms at either the Women’s Imaging Center, located at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, or the Amherst Outpatient Center on University Drive.

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