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Health Team

Duke researcher developing a more comfortable mammogram

Posted February 12, 2015

Many women avoid or delay recommended breast cancer screening because standard mammography can be awkward and uncomfortable.

But researchers at Duke University believe they've found a better way – a table with an opening for the breast that allows patients simply to lie down rather than being handled and squeezed.

“Gravity just naturally pulls her breast away from her body, so there's no compression that's necessary,” said Dr. Martin Tornai, associate professor of radiology at Duke.

Stephanie Hyatt, who is participating in the Duke study, said the table is an alternative that she had always hoped for since she started having annual mammograms at age 40.

“I think the most uncomfortable part is having some stranger handling your breast by putting it in this cold, sterile equipment,” she said of standard mammograms.

With the new system, two imaging devices move around the breast. The first is a CT X-ray that records a slice-by-slice view along with a three-dimensional view. It can be combined with SPECT imaging, which uses a radioactive molecule injection to reveal possible tumors as bright orange spots. 

Tornai says together, the CT and SPECT imaging would be used as a follow-up to standard mammograms. He is already working with a private company to develop the CT system as frontline screening.

The CT images more clearly define masses in the breast. The smooth, round borders are a clue that a tumor is most likely not cancerous, so the patient may not be called in for more imaging or a biopsy.

“It turns out that we can potentially reduce the recall rate by around 70 to 75 percent,” Tornai said.

Tornai has been working on developing a non-compression mammography system since at least 2004. It’s undergone many changes and is now in the hands of a private company to develop and eventually market it. However, federal approval takes time, and investors are still needed.

Hyatt hopes the technology will soon be available for her and other women.

“I think this would be a very efficacious way to identify those without the fear and anxiety of the current process,” she said.

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  • Judy Fergerson Feb 13, 2015
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    My question would be: At what age should a female consider a mammogram no longer necessary?