Simple Physics May Make Mammograms Less Painful


Pressure isn't always a bad thing, researchers have found when exploring ways to minimize pain during mammograms without reducing image quality.

By standardizing the pressure applied during a mammogram, researchers believe they can reduce a woman’s pain without harming the image quality.

Next week, researchers plan to unveil a new device that regulates the amount of breast compression applied during a mammogram. The device, and the results of a study supporting its potential for clinical use, will be presented during the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Key Points:

- Researchers have developed a way to standardize the amount of pressure applied during a mammogram.

- The device, they say, could reduce the amount of pain experienced by women during the procedure without a reduction in image quality.

While the device, which researchers called a small upgrade to existing mammography technology, was tested in a study of 433 women, it will require further study before it can become part of regular clinical practice. In the study, researchers sought to find the appropriate amount of pressure required to produce a good image while not causing the women too much pain.

In conducting the tests, the researchers opted to focus on the amount of pressure used, instead of the amount of force applied, during mammography and whether concentrating on pressure makes a difference in pain levels. Force is the total impact of one object on another, whereas pressure is the ratio of force to the area over which it is applied.

The participating women received four compressions. Three of the compressions were standardized to a target force of 14 dekanewtons (daN), with a fourth randomly assigned compression using a target pressure of 10 kilopascals.

They found that the women reported the compression done at 10 kPa pressure to be less painful than the mammograms done at a force of 14 daN. Radiologists who examined the images said there was no difference in quality between the two compression targets.

"Standardizing the applied pressure would reduce both over- and under-compression and lead to a more reproducible imaging procedure with less pain," said Woutjan Branderhorst, PhD, researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Physics at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, in a news release.

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