Most of our patients (beyond that “certain age”), have met Mrs. Charlene Aitken, Sparks & Favor’s Mammography Certified Radiologic Technologist. Mrs. Aitken’s professional experience spans three decades. This month, we celebrate her 20th year promoting breast health for our patients!
To kick-off two important events—Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the launch of our new 3D mammography system—we have asked Mrs. Aiken to answer a few questions.
Q: What drew you to specializing in mammography?
A: I am passionate about mammography because it’s such a powerful tool. I tell my patients that this simple, 10-minute exam saves so many lives! I have also been personally affected, having supported my mother through her struggle with breast cancer.
Q: What are the most important changes in breast mammography you’ve seen over the course of your career?
A: Technology has advanced so much, but I think the most important changes are actually in quality control. The Mammography Quality Standards Act is only 26 years old. It requires that facilities are certified for safety and reliability. Updates to the law also ensure that women receive their mammogram results promptly in language they can understand!
Q: You mentioned new technology. Can you describe some of the changes?
A: The change from x-ray film to digital technology (the x-ray is recorded as a computer file) has enabled the radiologist to enlarge or enhance the breast image for a clearer look. Digital mammograms are also easier to transmit to the radiologist for initial reading or second opinion, and easier to store in the patient record. The newest technology is 3D mammography, and this has been another major step forward.
Q: What is a 3D mammogram?
A: The 3D mammography unit takes multiple x-rays of the breast from different angles. These multiple images–similar to slices through the breast–are combined into a 3D view. The procedure, also known as breast tomosynthesis, provides a more informative picture of the breast tissue than a traditional 2D mammogram. Traditional mammography takes only one image for each view of the breast.
Q: What are the advantages of 3D?
A: From the American College of Radiology statement: 3D mammography offers “higher cancer detection rates and fewer patient recalls for additional testing.” The radiologists’ professional organization goes on to say that these improvements “will likely translate into more lives saved” and “fewer patients who may experience short-term anxiety awaiting test results.” 3D mammograms are especially recommended for women with dense breast tissue. Multiple images allow the radiologist to examine the breast in thin layers, one at a time. Fine details are more visible, and a lump is less likely to be hidden by the tissue above or below.
I am especially looking forward to hearing our patients’ comments about our new system’s “Smart Curve” compression surface. I think women will find their mammography experience a bit more comfortable.
Q: Does 3D mammography present any disadvantages?
A: I think recent improvements in the 3D mammography system have overcome some earlier disadvantages. I am very pleased that Sparks & Favor has chosen this updated version of the technology. Using older 3D technology, a complete exam required separate 2D and 3D views of each breast. Patients received a larger dose of radiation than a 2D exam alone–although still well-within safety guidelines. The older combination exam also kept the breast between the compression paddles for a longer time (about 12 sec.*), while it captured the 2D and then the 3D images. The latest version of 3D mammography–now available at Sparks & Favor–produces the 2D and 3D views simultaneously. It. delivers a radiation dose comparable to a simple 2D mammogram and requires less than 4 seconds* per view.
Q: Is the 3D exam right for every woman?
A: Our physicians here at Sparks & Favor recommend that any woman needing breast screening should consider a 3D mammogram. I think my patients will notice little difference from their previous mammogram, except hopefully less discomfort, thanks to the “Smart-Curve” system. But they will enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they have had the most up-to-date screening exam available.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like your patients to know about their mammography experience at Sparks & Favor?
A: Well, I’d like to add that achieving the best possible exam and minimizing the need for extra views and call-backs depends on both the equipment and on having an experienced mammography technologist. Technology has changed but the critical importance of properly positioning the breast has not changed. The FDA reports, “Poor positioning has been found to be the cause of most clinical image deficiencies.” I am committed to providing my patients the highest quality exam I can deliver, while also minimizing their anxiety and discomfort. Every woman’s breast is different. From years of experience, I know the capability of my machine and of my patient’s breast—whether large, small, dense, or affected by previous surgery. I take great pride in the positive feedback I have received from our radiologists regarding the quality of mammograms I submit. Every woman deserves a quality mammogram!
Thanks so much, Mrs. Aitken!
*Scan time only