Nov 07, 2022 9:00 AM

Read Time: 3 minutes

Author: Carley Lehauli

Holly Tullis and Shelley Conkey
Holly Tullis and Shelley Conkey

Holly Tullis walks to work before the sun comes up. She heads to her shared office space, lit by twinkle lights and a lamp to keep the feeling calm. The day starts quickly as she, along with four other technologists, each prepare to do the first of 12 to 15 mammograms. With her schedule full of checking for breast cancers, Tullis takes care to make sure her job is done with excellence, sensitivity, and kindness.

“Because of the type of the work we do, there are days that can be harder than others,” says Tullis. “Then I’ll meet that one patient who I connect with and it reminds me why I do what I do—to help catch their cancer as early as possible.”

When a patient arrives for their mammogram, the technologist lets them set the tone for their exam. Whether the patient is anxious because they’re back for additional imaging, or calm because it’s a routine scan, Tullis approaches each case with care. “We have to adapt our care approach to how the patient is responding to the exam,” she says.

While patients are waiting, technologists are working behind the scenes with radiologists to get additional imaging and recording all information necessary to get the best results.

“We get difficult cases, which makes it important for the equipment and mammography technologists to all be working cohesively,” says Shelley Conkey, RT, mammography manager at Huntsman Cancer Institute. “Patients put their trust in us and we want them to get the amazing care they deserve.”

Mammograms are critical to catch cancer early, when they are most treatable. Getting one at Huntsman Cancer Institute and other University of Utah Health clinics is different because radiologists focus exclusively on breast screenings. Phoebe Freer, MD, breast radiologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor of radiology says, “We have a phenomenal group of radiologists who are dedicated and read nothing other than breast imaging. Everyone who will read a mammogram is a breast expert, and many have national recognition.”

Huntsman Cancer Institute uses Volpara Analytics during mammograms. This software evaluates several factors to ensure quality. These include position of the breast, compression, and image quality. Performing mammograms with these quality standards is crucial in catching abnormalities in the breast. The company ranked Huntsman Cancer Institute 12th in the world out of more than 2,000 institutions that use their software in terms of quality of mammograms performed. These quality measures help to ensure the best mammogram possible, including those who have dense breasts. Breast density is a term that describes the type of tissue in the breast. According to the National Cancer Institute, “nearly half of women age 40 and older have dense breasts, which make mammograms more difficult to read and can increase the risk of breast cancer.”  The mammography team at Huntsman Cancer Institute is focused on providing the best mammogram possible for all patients, including those with dense breasts. Their goal is to detect cancers early, when the disease is easiest to treat. 

“There are a lot of moving parts in our department,” says Tullis. “We have learned and are constantly adapting to our work flow to make sure we are able to take care of our patients.”

The American Cancer Society states that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to find breast cancer at an earlier and more treatable stage. Experts at Huntsman Cancer Institute recommend all women should receive a mammogram every year, starting at the age of 40. Schedule one today by calling 801-581-5496.

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