Monday Medical: Not your mother’s mammogram |

Monday Medical: Not your mother’s mammogram

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Monday Medical

Editor's note: This article is the second in a three-part series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Mammograms have changed through the past few decades — for the better.

One of the things Frannie Johnson, breast health nurse navigator at the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center, hears most from women getting their first mammogram is that it was much more pleasant than expected.

"Most women come in and say, 'That was not what my mom told me it would be,'" Johnson said.

Below, Johnson and Dr. Terese I. Kaske, breast radiologist and medical director of Yampa Valley Medical Center's Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center, outline some of the changes that have made getting a mammogram easier and more comfortable than ever.

Improved technology: Years ago, mammograms required higher radiation exposure and resulted in less detailed images.

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With today's 3-D digital mammography, a safe, low dose of radiation is used to quickly capture an image in planes, allowing the radiologist to get a clearer picture of what is, or isn't, there.

"3-D has about a 25 percent increase in the cancer detection rate and about a 15 to 20 percent decrease in re-call rates," Kaske said.

If a dense spot is found, a radiologist can flip through image slices, like looking at the pages of a book. It's easier to determine if the dense spot is actually a mass and better estimate its location or if the dense spot is just a place where blood vessels and other tissues overlap.

That helps reduce the number of false alarms, which can be costly in terms of finances, time and emotions.

"We know it causes people anxiety and angst," Kaske said. "3-D helps us call back fewer women."

And if there is a need for a biopsy, the procedure has improved through the years.

"Women will come in worried about a biopsy," Johnson said. "But after getting one themselves, they're surprised. Some describe it as a walk in the park."

Improved training and techniques: Mammograms used to be conducted by radiologists and technologists who had general experience, but weren't breast imagers. Now, technologists, nurses and doctors, such as Kaske, can specialize in mammography and breast health.

"Technology has improved significantly, and so have the techniques and training," Kaske said. 'We have a team that is really well trained."

This includes Kaske and Dr. Malaika C. Thompson, each breast-specialty, fellowship-trained radiologists, as well as skilled and experienced technologists and a dedicated nurse. Johnson's role of breast health nurse navigator helps ensure that patients understand every step of the process.

"We try to make it more specialized and personalized," Kaske said.

Comfortable environment: Instead of having to check in at the hospital to get a mammogram, women can go directly to the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center, where they can enjoy heated robes, spa water and a calming environment while they wait. This will also be true of the new center, set to open in the Outpatient Pavilion after Thanksgiving this year.

"We try to make it very convenient, especially when it's just a screening," Kaske said.

Results are shared quickly, usually in one to two business days, in the form of a personal phone call. When possible, results are provided at the time of the examination.

If your mom's stories of getting screened are keeping you from your annual mammogram, Kaske and Johnson encourage you to see for yourself.

"We get a lot of positive feedback about the process," Johnson said. "It's a more comfortable, relaxed environment than ever."

For more information on getting a mammogram, call the Breast Health Nurse Navigator at 970-875-2623.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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