A comfortable mammogram? Yes, and other impressive new breast cancer screening technologies

Patient and tech in mammogram suite

Curved mammogram paddles. A less expensive, ultrafast breast MRI. Artificial intelligence (AI)-aided tumor detection. At-home tests to determine your personal risk for breast cancer.

These are just some of the new, leading-edge technologies being introduced—or already in use—at the University of Chicago Medicine. The hospital is currently expanding its breast imaging services, adding new state-of-the-art tools to improve accuracy, comfort and convenience.

In December 2018, UChicago Medicine partnered with Solis Mammography to bring the latest technology to the Chicago market. The hospital is also pushing ahead with its industry-leading clinical trials to find new breast cancer screening tools.

Early detection is critically important, because in 2019, an estimated 286,600 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and about 41,700 women will die, according to the American Cancer Society.

Breast-shaped mammogram paddles

Yearly mammograms are recommended for women starting age 40. But many women avoid them because the procedure is painful – each breast is tightly pressed between two flat panels to scan for potential tumors.

To make the test more comfortable, UChicago Medicine has begun using SmartCurve technology, developed by Hologic in partnership with Solis Mammography. This unique technology offers curved compression paddles, shaped like a women’s breast, and a SmartCurve Breast Stabilization System with 3D imaging. It can be used by the vast majority of women, with the exception of those who have very small or large breasts, or certain types of implants.

“Women who have tried it told me it was revolutionary,” said Alex Sardina, MD, Solis Mammography’s chief medical officer.

SmartCurve breast-shaped mammogram paddle
SmartCurve breast-shaped paddles make mammograms more comfortable.

UChicago Medicine upgraded all of its mammogram machines to high-tech 3D models in August 2019, and SmartCurve paddles have already been added to many of them. They’re in use at UChicago Medicine Orland Park, where Solis Mammography will open a new Comprehensive Breast Imaging Suite next year, and in the newly renovated mammography clinic in the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM) in Hyde Park. In early 2020, SmartCurve mammograms will be available at UChicago Medicine’s South Loop and new River East locations.

“Mammoglams”

Comfy couches, dimmed lights, spa music, snacks … wait, this a hospital test waiting area? It will be.

UChicago Medicine and Solis Mammography are part of a nationwide trend to transform unpleasant mammogram appointments into a more spa-like “mammoglam” experience.

The UChicago Medicine breast centers with SmartCurve machines will be re-designed to be less clinical and more calming. The anxiety-reducing features will include earthy paint colors, soft lighting, comfortable seating, spacious dressing rooms with pre-warmed gowns, lined wicker baskets filled with snacks or grooming supplies, and lockers emblazoned with the names of powerful, famous women.

During hour-long breast ultrasounds, patients can connect their phones to the treatment room’s Bluetooth speaker and listen to their choice of music or podcast.

“The whole experience is much different than in most hospital settings,” said Marta Velasco, Solis Mammography’s vice president of marketing. “It settles your mind into a better space.”

Upright AFFIRM biopsy system

A faster, less-intimidating breast biopsy will be offered at select UChicago Medicine sites next year. Hologic’s new AFFIRM biopsy system lets patients sit upright in a chair, as a high-tech machine is centered over the breast, calculating the precise spot where the needle needs to be inserted. AFFIRM cuts the test time in half, to about 15 to 30 minutes.

QuantX

QuantX is a novel breast imaging analysis technology based on two decades of research by UChicago Medicine’s Maryellen Giger, PhD, a world-renowned pioneer in computer-aided diagnosis (CAD).

QuantX helps analyze breast MRIs using artificial intelligence (AI) and a large reference database to help radiologists interpret results and identify cancerous and non-cancerous breast lesions.

The FDA recently cleared the new technology for use after a clinical study showed Quantx improved the discovery of breast cancer tumors by 39%, and increased overall diagnostic improvement by 20%.

“It’s not going to replace the decisions that doctors make,” explained cancer radiologist Deepa Sheth, MD. “It’s going to help us make better decisions.”

The imaging team at UChicago Medicine is now evaluating QuantX and considering it for future patient use.

Ultrafast Abbreviated MRI

Abbreviated MRI is a revolutionary technology developed by Sheth and scientist Gregory Karczmar, PhD. It scans the breast every three seconds for about 10 minutes, completing the MRI in a fraction of the time it normally takes. The results are just as accurate, if not more so, due to the high-tech nature of the scans. And the cost of the procedure is significantly less.

The data acquired from Ultrafast Abbreviated MRI’s government-funded clinical trials at UChicago Medicine will soon be incorporated in large national trials.

WISDOM study

The University of Chicago Medicine is joining with University of California medical researchers on the WISDOM study–a national study designed to determine if breast cancer screening can be made better by personalizing each woman's mammogram schedule.

Women enrolled in the study's personalized screening schedule submit family/medical history and saliva samples for genetic testing of 9 genes associated with increased breast cancer risk. Risk results will help determine whether a woman needs a mammogram every other year, or if she should get more frequent mammograms supplemented with MRIs.

"No patient is the same and neither are their cancers,” said Sheth, one of the UChicago Medicine doctors leading the trial. “If you know your risk, you are better able to take control of your care. It’s all about finding the right test for the right patient. It’s all about personalized care. WISDOM will empower women to take the first steps towards that reality."

Learn more and sign up: wisdomstudy.org

LITE MRI

A routine breast MRI involves the injection of a contrast agent. While the contrast improves the image quality, there’s been growing concern about its safety. At UChicago Medicine, Sheth and her team are helping to develop a Low Dose Imaging Technique (LITE) MRI, where less than one-fifth of the contrast is used to obtain the same quality images.

Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, and Tara Gehring, RN

Breast Cancer Care

Our team represents expertise across the spectrum of breast cancer care: breast imaging, breast surgery, medical and radiation oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, lymphedema treatment, clinical genetics, pathology and nursing. Patients receive a comprehensive treatment plan that optimizes chances of their survival and quality of life.

Learn more about UChicago Medicine breast cancer care.

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