New device gives women a more comfortable mammogram

Elaine Wohl has always been diligent about getting her annual mammogram.

Ever since being diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) — a biomarker that puts one at high risk for developing invasive breast cancer — the retired public relations executive and part-time Boca Raton resident hasn’t had a choice.

But until her most recent screening, she’d always hated the process for one simple reason: the pain.

“The amount of breast compression would be like some kind of medieval torture,” she said. “It was like having your breasts put in a vice.”

All that changed for Wohl last week thanks to Senographe Pristina — a next-generation 3-D digital mammography system that GE Healthcare designed to “reshape the mammography experience with comfort.”

“It was light years ahead of anything I’d ever experienced before,” said Wohl. “I was pleasantly surprised by how little discomfort there was.”

GE Healthcare collaborated with Boca Raton Regional Hospital (BRRH) in a years-long effort to create the new system. This summer, BRRH became the first hospital in the U.S. to offer the Pristina.

“For the last 40 years, the patient experience with mammograms had not changed,” said Dr. Kathy Schilling, medical director of BRRH’s Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute. “After having a mammogram on Pristina, patients immediately recognize the difference: It’s a faster and quieter exam with greater comfort and less pain during compression.”

Schilling was among the medical professionals instrumental in the creation of Pristina, advising GE Healthcare on how it could bring “empathy to design.”

According to Schilling, research shows that around one-third of women who should be undergoing annual mammograms eschew screening because of fear and anxiety — both about the pain associated with the experience and what the results might show.

“We wanted to create a warm and inviting experience for women — and that started with the machine itself.”

Among the design features Schilling cited as being unique to Pristina:

  • Rounded, beveled corners of the image detector (“This reduces underarm pain.”)
  • Comfortable armrests instead of conventional hand grips (“By eliminating hand grips, pectoral muscles are less likely to tense, so the tissue can be properly positioned.”)
  • Patient-assisted compression (“The patient remains in control of how much compression there is and the rate at which it is applied.”)

Pristina’s design delivers more than just added comfort. It also provides better diagnostic results.

“In clinical testing, we found that mammograms done with Pristina showed 5 percent more breast image than other mammograms,” noted Schilling. “We attribute that to patients being more relaxed and in little to no discomfort.”

An additional benefit of having relaxed patients — which Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute further prioritizes via its spa-like “sensory suites” that are infused with calming fragrances and flat-screen TVs projecting soothing videos and photos — is that the test is completed quicker. Thus, patients are exposed to less radiation.

“I was the first person in the U.S. to undergo a Pristina mammogram and I immediately thought to myself, ‘This is a new day.’ And I’ve been having mammograms since the 1980s,” said Schilling.

Wohl echoed the doctor’s sentiments: “If you’re fearful of mammograms, try Pristina — you will not be disappointed.”

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