Imaging personnel are on front lines of detection

October 13, 2017

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and although many people are aware of breast cancer and its risks, it’s easy to forget early detection and treatment are key to fighting breast cancer.

Two of the most effective ways of detecting and tracking breast cancer are via sonography and mammography. Oncologists rely on these imaging modalities to identify cancers, determine the best course of action and review tumor growth over the course of treatment.

“Mammographers use a low-dose X-ray system to see inside the breast for the radiologist to review for detection of breast cancer. It is an important role in helping to maintain breast health and to identify any abnormalities of the tissue,” said Mary Theresa Posern, director of cardiology, imaging, and radiation oncology services at St. Joseph Medical Center.

Sonography and ultrasound are then used in conjunction with the mammogram to determine if a mass is cystic, solid or complex.

“The sonographers work with the radiologists and other physicians to scan and document the information during a sonography exam,” said Cleveland Black, administrative director of the School of Diagnostic Imaging at Harris Health System.

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, or ARRT, offers credentials in medical imaging.

“Technologists in mammography must have primary certification as ARRT R, meaning a radiography credential from AART,” Posern said. “Sonographers who do breast ultrasound must also have one primary certification from ARDMS, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Additional education and clinical experience are required to become a registered breast sonographer.”

Mammography, on the other hand, is a post-primary credential obtained once a technologist has been certified as a Registered Technologist in Radiology.

“Primary certification in radiology requires, first, a minimum of an associate degree, and second, approximately two years of education including competency examinations. The mammography post-primary certification requires additional education - dependent on school design, approximately a few months - with a completion of 75 patient examinations in addition to 25 supervised patient examinations for Mammography Quality Standard Act, or MQSA,” said Jeanifeer Lara, program director of radiography at the School of Diagnostic Medical Imaging at Harris Health System.

An average day for those in imaging fields requires a technologist to assure that all equipment is properly functioning. Quality assurance testing must be performed before any exam can be performed.

“Once testing is satisfactory, the technologists will perform exams on patients requiring routine screenings or physician-requested diagnostic examinations,” Lara said. “Mammograms are used as a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms. They can also be used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain, skin dimpling or nipple discharge.”

Posern echoed this commitment to quality assurance and added that staff are also dedicated to making patients feel comfortable and safe.

“While obtaining good quality images is the goal, we also assure patient comfort and safety. Our technicians explain the procedures, describe the equipment and answer any questions The technician will obtain good positioning of the patient to assure an excellent result. The technician will also confirm the patient’s information and guide the patient through the process,” Posern said.

The majority of Posern’s patients are women over age 50.

“Experts agree it is vital to set a schedule of regular yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. Annual screening starting at age 40 reduces breast cancer mortality by 30 percent through early detection, according to the Society of Breast Imaging,” Posern said.

An immediate and sustainable demand exists for educated mammographers in hospitals and clinics - there is a 9 percent projected growth for employment in this field by 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.