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Mammography at 50: Past, Present and Future


Mammogram of breast tissue. Advances in mammography have allowed clinicians to diagnose and treat breast cancer better than ever before.

In Europe, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. However, survival rates are higher than ever before, and rising.

Mammography and its importance to women’s health is common knowledge in most European countries, but this was not always the case. It is largely thanks to the tireless efforts made by clinicians, engineers, designers, campaigners and politicians alike that this fundamental breast imaging technology has reached the mainstream.

As we learn about the future of breast health at this year’s European Congress of Radiology (ECR), here is a look at mammography’s fascinating history, as well as the progress we have made towards empowering women and helping them take charge of their health. To get some perspective on just how far the technology has come, here is a timeline of the history of mammography. For the full infographic, click here.


1966-2016: 50 Years of Innovations

Mammography is the examination of breast tissue using x-rays to help detect lesions or calcifications that can be indicative of breast cancer. It helps clinicians identify problem areas as early as possible, and potentially define a treatment plan adapted to the patient’s needs.

“Mammography has a strong history in Europe”, said Remy Klausz, Principal Engineer, Detection and Guidance Solutions, GE Healthcare. In 1965, French radiologist Charles Gros, asked the Paris-based Compagnie Générale de Radiologie (CGR) to find a way to develop a dedicated device for x-ray breast imaging that would provide better images than conventional equipment and would be as comfortable as possible for women.

“The first ever mammographic unit was just a crystallographic x-ray tube mounted on a camera tripod in late 1965. It became the original Senographe in 1966, the first breast-dedicated mammography unit.” Remy added. GE acquired CGR in 1987, and mammography machines that followed the Senographe remain the standard of care for breast cancer screening.

Along the way, discoveries about X-ray exposure, along with compression techniques and details about breast tissue such as density, but also desire to improve the patient experience, have guided technological and design improvements in  mammography technology for the last fifty years.

Empowering Women

Aurelie Boudier, Global Creative Director Brand and Design Language at GE Healthcare’s Global Design Centre in Buc near Paris, France, and her predecessors have been key players in many of these developments. From Senographe to Tomosynthesis, the Global Design Centre has worked closely with the engineering teams since the 1970s to develop some of the most groundbreaking solutions for women around the world, shaping the history of mammography.

“It’s a very close partnership,” said Aurelie. “Our team brings another perspective helping put the patient at the heart of the whole process.”

The technology behind mammography has evolved in parallel with the needs of women being screened. In the beginning, the focus was on making women aware of the risks of cancer, and to educate about the benefits of routine breast screening.

Now, scientists know more about breast cancer, and women know more about mammography, than ever before. There is an increasing focus on empowering women.

“In the last ten years, we’ve really seen a shift in the behavior of women,” said Aurelie. “They are participating more, and want to manage their health.”

“We know that if one woman has had a bad experience with mammography, she will communicate that to her peers. The reverse is also true: if a woman has a positive experience, and her fears are addressed and the procedure is made as agreeable as possible, she will spread a positive message among her peers and come back for future screenings.”

“Radiologists have realized this in the last few years, and that is where the importance of design has become clear. The impact of perception is more powerful now than it ever was before.”

A New World for Breast Care

At this year’s ECR, mammography is set to enter a new era. Aurelie gave us a glimpse into what she thinks the future of the discipline will look like.

“I believe the digital world is going to really play a big role,” she said. “Women will want to participate more in the management of their health, they will want more control.”

“Any digital tool or bridge that will help a woman to prepare for her exam, or to relax during the exam, will really help and will be a game changer in the relationship between patient and radiologist. If we do that, we can really generate an ecosystem where the patient will have a more positive attitude to the management of her health.”

Most recently, Aurelie and her team have worked with over 200 engineers, partners such as Gustave Roussy Cancer Institute and specialists from over 25 institutions throughout the world to develop a new mammography solution that has truly put the patient at the heart of the technology and the design. This latest innovation will be unveiled for the first time at ECR* and will help push us ever closer towards a new world for breast care.

Stay tuned to The Pulse, where we will bring you the biggest news, the latest stories and live video from the tradeshow floor.


Some of the innovations or products mentioned above may not be CE marked and cannot be placed on the market or put into service until they have been made to comply with CE marking or otherwise obtained all required regulatory authorizations.

More Information

The Pulse@ECR

GE Healthcare at ECR 2016

Mammography Solutions

Design at GE Healthcare: The Magic of Science and Empathy