New mammogram procedure invented by team in Mass.

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For most women, a mammogram is an uncomfortable burden.  It’s a screening, however, that can save lives.  Early detection of breast cancer can reduce a women’s chance of dying from the disease by 25 - 30 percent.

Erin Brenner had the same reaction most women have to their first mammogram.  “I remember it being kind of cold, and white, and sterile.”

As a product manager for GE Healthcare, Brenner could do something about it.  The Needham mother led an all-women team that created Pristina, a new way to perform a mammogram.

“Pristina was meant to be really warm and inviting.  We did a lot of work around the machine itself, to round the corners.  There are fewer sharp edges to poke into a patient’s ribs, or under arms,” explained Brenner. 

More remarkably, Pristina has a wireless hand-held device so the patient can control how the pressure is applied.  

Massachusetts General Hospital is the first local hospital with the system.  

Dr. Constance Lehman, Director of Breast Imaging, said, “A mammogram should never be painful.  For many women, it is extremely uncomfortable. Women will complain of the compression, how tight it feels, or that it just hurts.”

Getting patients directly involved in their care pays off, according to Dr. Lehman.  For example, she cites studies that show patients use less pain medication when they control it.  “That was something that was very exciting in medicine, to realize when you engage patients and give them more control, we can have better outcomes.”

Dr. Lehman wants patients to understand they work with a technologist even though they are controlling the pressure put on the breast.  “One of the things we want to make sure of, that patients understand, is that we are not putting them in a room to take their own mammogram.  This is not a do it yourself mammogram.”

The hope is more women will comply with screening standards if they find the process more pleasant.  “When we do studies across the country, we find that, only about half the women that should be getting regular screening mammography are getting regularly screening mammography,” said Dr. Lehman.

Brenner wants more women to be compliant with screening guidelines and believes that women have designed a system, for women, that will make that happen.  “I think having the insights from women who have been thru these exams, and can know what the experience is like, is really impactful, to you know, have the mammograms and then be on the other side.”

A study in Europe, where Pristina was first launched, found 79 percent of women were more comfortable with this system.  

There is no additional cost to use Pristina at MGH - and it is covered by insurance. 

Guidelines for mammograms vary according to different medical organizations.  The bottom line is any woman over the age of 40 should be talking to their doctor about what’s right for them.

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