Putting the patient at the center of breast care

Agnes Berzsenyi

January 15, 2019
By Agnes Berzsenyi

Medical care has changed dramatically over the past 50 years – including standards of care, the (now outdated) idea of exploratory surgery and the tools of the trade. Breast imaging technology is no exception, with the rapid innovation and development of basic mammography, digital breast tomosynthesis and even breast interventional procedures. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: the industry’s commitment to the patient.

Many of us know one of these patients – someone who has been affected by breast cancer, whether it be a friend, sister, mother or daughter. Knowing someone who has faced breast cancer personally is indeed what drives the search for innovation. And today’s most powerful breast care innovations focus not just on earlier detection and more tailored monitoring and treatment, but also on providing a better patient experience.

More than 75 percent of breast cancer happens in women with no known risk factors , meaning mammography may be the best chance for a clinician to find it. Unfortunately for many women, the number one reason they don´t schedule a mammogram is fear and anxiety – related to both the potential result and discomfort during the breast exam . Disturbingly, a woman’s decision not to get a mammogram can delay a breast cancer diagnosis and impact a patient’s long-term prognosis, as finding breast cancer early reduces a woman’s risk of dying from the disease by 25-30 percent or more .

These numbers are just too high – and that risk is too big. But there is hope.

By taking a multimodality approach tailored to a patient’s age, breast density, breast size, medical history, risk factors and personal preference, clinicians can help improve screening outcomes by increasing the detection of early invasive cancers and decreasing interval cancer rates.

And by focusing on the patient experience, we’re helping clinicians provide different tests for different breasts. For example, mammography systems are now being designed by women, for women. As a result, the new technology is intended to reflect the contours of a woman’s body and make the experience as comfortable for the patient as possible. It also addresses a constant source of discomfort in mammography technology – compression. Compression of the breast is necessary to acquire an accurate diagnostic image, but with new patient-assisted compression technology, the patient is given an active role in her own exam. That way, the patient can know when the pressure is coming rather than anticipate the pain. If the patient has a more positive experience, they are more likely to return for future screenings, and clinicians may have a better chance of finding their breast cancer early – when it’s the most treatable.

If a patient needs more tests along the breast care pathway, there are solutions designed to give them the best possible patient experience. For example, if a diagnostic exam is needed following an inconclusive mammogram – often a troubling time for a patient – a clinician can use contrast-enhanced spectral mammography to highlight areas of unusual blood flow to help localize a known or suspected lesion. It can be done the same day, in the same room, in less than seven minutes with images immediately available for a radiologist to review to provide immediate answers for a patient.

And if an interventional procedure is needed, there are biopsy devices highly focused on minimizing patient distress. A biopsy can be an invasive and uncomfortable procedure but is necessary for diagnosing breast cancer – which means any effort to ease patient anxiety can help. For example, a newly designed side approach for the procedure reduces needle visibility to the patient, and workflow improvements cut the exam time to under 15 minutes.

To continue advancing breast health technology, the patient must be at the center of every design. The revolution in breast care is not aspirational – it’s transformational, and it’s happening now. The industry is dedicated to enabling clinicians to do their jobs faster, easier and with improved clinical outcomes. And most importantly, we are dedicated to making a difference in patients’ lives as we continue the fight against breast cancer.

About the author: Agnes Berzsenyi is the president and CEO of GE Healthcare Women’s Health

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