Having the breast mechanically compressed during a mammography is a painful procedure that causes distress to women who need to receive a diagnosis. In the same time, the technique is crucial in the effort to detect breast cancer at an early stage, when the disease is highly treatable. Fortunately, Dutch researchers found a solution to the problem, they devised a device with adjustable pressure.
Mammography is a painful procedure because physicians can only adjust the pressure by using visual and tactile cues. Stressing the breast, although an unnecessary burden for women, is required in order to obtain high quality images. Keeping the breast still is a needed to avoid motion blur. Technicians use force to keep the breast in place during the imaging process.
The breast gets squeezed between two cold plates, a traumatic experience for some women. Women with smaller breast are particularly affected by the technique, because the pressure is applied to a smaller area. Many women may skip the procedure specifically because the experience is painful. According to a survey, more than 50 percent of the women who get a mammography experience pain.
Woutjan Branderhorst, a researcher at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, together with a scientist from Sigmascreening, a company related to AMC, developed a new device which measures the right amount of pressure need to effectively run the procedure in real time.
They performed a study on more than 400 women. Researchers modified the machines to have access to readings that go from 0 to 100 percent. Each woman underwent four imaging procedures. Technicians did not know which procedure is based on force and which relies on pressure.
“The device used in our study measures and displays the pressure in real time, which provides an objective guide for the technologists and enables standardization of the pressure,” Branderhorst said.
After every episode, each women were asked to assess the level of pain. Force-based procedures are currently used in mammography. But results showed that pressure-based techniques provide high-quality images while producing a lower level of stressing to the breast.
According to Branderhorst, besides the fact that the device will be cheap, it can be integrated to new machines.
Because the study results have not been peer reviewed, they are considered preliminary. Branderhorst will present his findings in a couple of days at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.