By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Like most women, champion dog breeder Dominique Dube remembers her first mammogram.

“It was not hurting, but it was… I would say, uncomfortable,” says Dominique.

University Hospitals Breast Imaging Specialist Dr. Donna Plecha admits getting your breast squashed between two plates is not exactly delightful.

“Some patients do complain of pain, pinching, and pulling of the skin when they get their mammogram,” says Dr. Plecha, “And some patients, that may make them not want to come in and get their mammogram.”

In a study of 1,200 women, nearly three out of four describe the test as mildly to severely painful. Three percent said they wouldn’t come back.

“So, any way we can try to make it more comfortable for patients, I think is a good idea,” Dr. Plecha says.

Three years ago, University Hospitals in Cleveland started a study of a new, improved way of imaging the breast, and KDKA’s Dr. Maria Simbra went to see what it was all about.

The new technique is called Smart Curve.

The mammography machine is the same for regular and Smart Curve, the difference is in the paddles. Regular paddles are flat with square edges, which can dig into the chest. The Smart Curve has smooth, curved edges, more of a match to the contour of the breast, making compression more comfortable.

“The patient’s breast is still compressed, because we need that compression to be able to find cancers and eliminate false positives for cancers,” explains Dr. Plecha.

The multi-center study evaluates patient comfort and quality of imaging.

“We don’t want an image that’s not going to find cancer, just because it’s more comfortable,” Dr. Plecha said. “We want to make sure it’s at least equal to the images we get [otherwise] with the standard of care.”

Each woman had a mammogram with standard and Smart Curve paddles. Which image was compared, which breast was analyzed, whether standard or Smart Curve images were taken first were all changed up at random.

“There were all different ways that we looked at this, to compare, so we didn’t bias the study in any way,” says Dr. Plecha.

Turns out, with the 100 women studied at University Hospitals, comfort levels are good and the pictures are comparable.

“We were able to pull as much tissue as we could into the picture, because you don’t want to miss anything near the chest wall. And the pictures themselves looked just as good as the other pictures we usually get on mammograms,” Dr. Plecha says.

Currently, you can only get the Smart Curve as part of the study. Dr. Plecha expects it will be released for purchase in the next few months, and once hospitals make the purchase, it can be offered to patients.

“This would be covered by insurance, it wouldn’t cost any more,” says Dr. Plecha. “It’s the same mammogram, it’s just using a different paddle and you wouldn’t get charged any differently.”

Dominique could tell a difference when she had the Smart Curve.

“My left breast, it’s a little bit more sensitive, because of the cyst,” says Dominique. “I said, yes, it’s true. It was like less hard on me.”

She hopes it will be available for her next mammogram in January,

“Yes, I wish it would be the one they used on me the last time,” she says. “I think with the new way, it would be much better for every woman.”