CHICAGO - When it comes to breast cancer, it's well documented that early detection saves lives. But that only works if women get screened - most commonly, with mammograms.
There's new technology making mammograms less painful and giving patients more control. ABC7 Traffic Anchor and breast cancer survivor Roz Varon went to the Radiological Society of North America at McCormick Place to learn more.
What if you could be in the driver's seat of your own mammogram - deciding how much pressure you could tolerate without compromising accuracy? New technology called Senographe Pristina was designed by women, for women.
The global team of female engineers not only came up with a more comfortable mammogram machine, but also designed the first wireless remote allowing the patient to control the amount of compression.
"Women weren't as compliant as we thought they were. More than half of women weren't showing up for their mammogram. What can we do? How can we engineer comfort in this new platform? That is what we have here with Pristina," said Barbara Rhoden, GE Healthcare's director of marketing and sales for women's health in the U.S. and Canada.
"It was not only about designing a more comfortable machine with low dose, it was about giving a tool that lifts the emotional barrier women have against mammography," said Aurelie Boudier, a GEHC Senographe Pristina product designer.
Here's how it works. The technician goes over the procedure with the patient first, then works with them during the entire exam.
"I'm still positioning the patient. I'm still doing preliminary compression on the patient. I'm working with the patient to add the compression. My hands are there the entire time," GEHC Mammogram Technologist Kathleen Schindler said.
"This one made me much more comfortable. It was nice being able to implement some control, know when I would actually stop the pressure and know I was getting enough pressure on my breast," said Joan Liautaud, a mammogram patient.
Varon had the opportunity to try the new system and found herself applying more pressure than was required. She wasn't alone.
"We realized that the studies that were done in France, they're applying more compression. They're compressing harder by 20 percent - the patients. In terms of image quality, there's not an impact at all. In fact, when you compress more, you get a better mammogram and lower dose," GEHC Global Mammogram Product Manager Laura Hernandez said.
To make the entire experience less stressful, the team also designed a sensory suite for the exam, with soothing images and sounds.
"If you stimulate women's senses simultaneously - what they see, what they hear, what they smell - they feel more relaxed. You can eliminate some of the anxiety," GEHC President and CEO of Women's Health Agnes Berzsenyi said.
Three Chicago area hospitals will get the new mammography equipment and remote control early next year. Having that bit of control can make a big difference.
The ergonomic design of Pristina makes it easier for the patient and the technician, with smaller, thinner, rounded edges and no handle to grip. Instead, there is a more naturally positioned arm rest. It's made by women, for women.