By Aine Cryts

While the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, and the U.S. Cancer Society each provide slightly different guidance on the frequency with which women in some age groups should receive a mammogram, many women 40 years of age and older undergo a mammogram either every year or every other year. The American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging recommend annual mammograms for women 40 years of age and older.

Nearly one in six women say that discomfort has deterred them “a lot” or “totally” from getting a screening mammogram. That’s according to survey results announced by Siemens Healthineers on September 25.

The medical technology company with a U.S. headquarters in Malvern, Penn., partnered with HealthyWomen, a nonprofit health information resource for women, on a national survey of women 40 years of age and older. Sixty-one percent of the women surveyed agreed on the necessity of mammographic screenings. Even so, 52% called the mammogram experience ”uncomfortable,” while 25% percent deemed it “painful.”

Compression during the mammogram is one factor that can lead to discomfort, Pam Cumming, director of women’s health at Siemens Healthineers North America, tells AXIS Imaging News. During its product development process, Siemens focuses on answering two key questions, Cumming says:

  1. How much compression is needed during the mammogram screening?
  2. Where is the fine line between when compression becomes more painful than productive?

“This is why Siemens Healthineers offers solutions to customers such as the Mammomat Revelation to help make the mammography experience more comfortable and tailored for individual patient care,” Cumming said in a product announcement. Personalized compression, soft paddles, low radiation doses, and even mood lighting are system features of the digital mammography machine, which received FDA clearance in March 2018.

Mammomat Revelation is designed to compress very slowly, until it senses the breast tissue is taut, Cumming tells AXIS. It’s also important to educate women about why compression is necessary, she adds. Without compression, if the patient moves, motion and blurring can occur—and that could mean the radiology tech will need to do the view again.

During the mammogram, it’s also important to tell women when compression will begin, according to Cumming. While educating women before and during their mammogram is valuable, so, too, is providing educational materials about the benefits of compression on the imaging center or radiology department’s website. Ob-Gyns and primary-care providers, who serve as women’s “gatekeepers” in healthcare, also need to learn more about the value of compression to keep women’s expectations in check.

Two additional findings from the survey:

  1. Comfort is a factor that resonates with women; it’s also key to getting women to receive their recommended mammograms. Of the 124 women who stopped getting mammograms on an annual or biannual basis, which represents approximately 10% of survey participants, 32% said unpleasant and/or painful past experiences served as a deterrent.
  2. Most women don’t know patient comfort options are available on mammography systems; respondents said they’d seek out medical providers that offered more comfortable experiences. Fifty-four percent of women said they would be highly motivated to get regular mammograms if they knew a more comfortable or tailored mammogram experience were available at a medical practice. In fact, 49% said they were very likely to consider practices that provided more comfortable or tailored mammogram experiences.

The survey, which included responses from 1,194 women 40 years of age and older about their experiences and perceptions of mammograms, was commissioned by Siemens Healthineers and conducted by HealthyWomen. Conducted between July 22 and August 5, the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

Aine Cryts is a contributing writer for AXIS Imaging News.