By Cindy Atoji Keene
When the new mammogram screening guidelines were released, radiology tech Lisa Dimatteo faced a lot of shocked and dismayed patients. "Many were upset because almost everybody knows somebody who has been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier than the age of 50," says Dimatteo, who works for the Women's Imaging Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital. "Some patients thought this was an early vibe about our health care plan," says Dimatteo, about the task force recommendations that most women delay routine mammograms until age 50 (instead of 40, as the panel advised in 2002). Dimatteo?s own first thought was, "What's going on? Are we going backward?"
The politics of mammograms aside, in her 15 years of conducting mammograms — sometimes up to 20 patients a day — Dimatteo has seen the technology become more advanced, with the current digital mammography units proven to take the best possible films so radiologists can detect changes in the breast that can't be felt.
Taking a mammogram is a very intimate procedure that requires making the patient comfortable and installing trust. "You need to actually hug the patient to position her, and then try for good compression of the glandular tissue, which leads to a better, clearer image," says Dimatteo, who admits it can very uncomfortable when the clear plastic paddle presses down on the mammorary glands. "But we're women — we're strong and deal with it. Many men couldn't cope," she adds, a bit kiddingly.
Radiologic technicians like Dimatteo are often trained in multiple modalities, including X-rays, ultrasound, CT scanning equipment, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Employment of staff technologists is expected to increase by 15 percent to 2016, as the population ages, increasing the need for diagnostic imaging.
Q: What's the basic procedure for doing a mammogram?
A: Our patients first fill out a breast cancer assessment survey that asks about family medical history, and birth control use, and other risk factors. All jewelry and clothing need to be removed, and then generally we take two views, or X-rays, of each breast. Once the pictures are taken, they're reviewed by a radiologist. The patient can wait to hear the results, which usually causes a little anxiety, since you never know what can be found.
Q: How did you get started in this career?
A: I knew in high school that I wanted to go into healthcare, and looked into radiology. I took a two-year medical imaging program at a local community college, passed the licensing exam, and began working at a Boston hospital. With time, I began to specialize in various aspects of radiology, such as mammograms. It's a career that offers part-time hours, which is great for raising a family.
Q: What do people say when they hear about what you do for a living?
A: The husbands of my girlfriends like to joke about it with me. There are all kinds of different shapes and sizes out there.
Q: Does that make a difference when doing a mammogram?
A: I position an A cup the same as a D cup. It just means there is
less of a fat layer. The smaller ones are a piece of cake. But if there
is a lot of fibrous tissue, then you need a lot of compression, which
can be painful. And the thicker the part, the longer the exposure, and
the more increased chance of motion and a blurry image. So women are
very cooperative because they want to help get it done right.
Q: Do you follow your own advice to get regular mammograms?
A: I do. I'm 37, and had my first mammogram two years ago, which will act as a baseline for future mammograms. I will get another one when I'm 40. Early detection is the best protection against devastating breast cancer.
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