Managing Patient Anxiety, Discomfort With Less Invasive Breast Imaging

Given the emotional turmoil of breast cancer surveillance, it's clear that next-generation imaging has a major role to play.

While mammograms are a lifesaving and important measure, the route to a breast cancer diagnosis can still be fraught with anxiety and false positives. About 1 in 10 mammograms yield an abnormal result, requiring a call back and additional screenings that may involve further diagnostic procedures.

Previous research has shown that about 1 in 3 women who get a “call-back letter” report feeling anxious, though the majority of patients who have mammograms—about 95.5 percent or more—won’t have a malignancy.1 Though that news may be a welcome relief to hear, it also means that those women and their families could potentially bypass the distress of certain follow-up diagnostic procedures if their initial mammogram experience had been moderately different. 

Fortunately, next-generation technologies like 3D mammography and SenoBright—which each may minimize the need for invasive diagnostic procedures while prioritizing patient comfort—may help.

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT)—also known as 3D mammography—has been shown to detect breast cancer with more accuracy and less need for call backs than full-field digital mammography (FFDM). It also was recently shown to decrease biopsies that yield benign results, while still upholding its high detection rate. In a March 2019 study in Radiology that involved more than 30,000 women, the technology showed potential to reduce the number of biopsies by nearly half, from 571 to 298.2

To help alleviate the patient anxiety sandwiched between the initial mammogram and the follow up, the medical community is increasingly advocating for a combination of both procedures (3D mammography and FFDM) for a standard screening. Doing so can decrease the need for follow-up appointments for imaging—and potentially, the anxiety they cause while patients wait for them.3

The SenoBright solution, from GE Healthcare, helps tick the same box for diagnostic imaging. With the ability to spot unusual blood flow patterns within a seven-minute diagnostic procedure as an adjunct following an inconclusive mammogram or ultrasound, the imaging technology gives clinicians a high level of confidence, while condensing the time between diagnostics to treatment planning, if it comes to that.4

Once treatment planning begins, imaging technology has a continuing role to play. For example, evidence has shown promise in using high-tech imaging to assess a breast cancer patient’s response to therapeutic agents. In those contexts, such technology can potentially let healthcare providers bypass invasive procedures by using highly accurate imaging as a “report card” of the treatment’s progress.Doing so can give clinicians a broader diagnostic toolkit while giving breast cancer patients a less poked-and-prodded care experience.

Above all, these advancements have the potential to put more human interactions back into care delivery, which has shown to ease anxiety on the part of worried patients.6 Thanks to time saved by automating manual tasks and gleaning efficiencies where they didn’t exist before, doctors can spend more time doctoring. And when you’re faced with something as scary as a potential cancer diagnosis, that face-to-face time can go a long way.



1. Online Support: Impact on Anxiety in Women Who Experience an Abnormal Screening Mammogram. The Breast. Accessed Apr. 23, 2019.

2. The Potential Impact of Digital Breast Tomosynthesis on the Benign Biopsy Rate in Women Recalled within the UK Breast Screening Programme. Radiology. Accessed Apr. 23, 2019.

3. 3D Mammogram. Mayo Clinic. Accessed Apr. 23, 2019.

4. From Diagnosis to Treatment Plan in a Matter of Minutes. GE Healthcare. Accessed May 1, 2019.

5. TBCRC026: Phase II Trial Correlating Standardized Uptake Value With Pathologic Complete Response to Pertuzumab and Trastuzumab in Breast Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Accessed Apr. 23, 2019.

6. Online Support: Impact on Anxiety in Women Who Experience an Abnormal Screening Mammogram. The Breast. Accessed Apr. 23, 2019.