Radiology technologist in Mankato trusts her intuition, detects breast cancer a year early

Jill Maas' ability to connect with patients not only makes her an integral part of the healthcare team but may also have helped save a life.

Jill Maas likes to put her patients at ease and make sure they’re comfortable. As a radiology technologist at the Breast Clinic at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, she knows her work involves uncomfortable procedures.

"When a patient comes in for a mammogram, my concern is their comfort," says Maas. "Much of this comes from reading body language and cues, asking questions and allowing them to voice concerns. Given the awkwardness of the situation, having a good sense of humor also goes a long way."

Maas' ability to connect with patients not only makes her an integral part of the healthcare team but may also have helped save a life.

Noticing something unusual

While assisting a patient with a routine mammogram, Maas noticed something unusual. A small lump on the patient's breast caught her attention as she prepared them for the mammography machine. The patient, who had not noticed the lump before, dismissed it as a bug bite from three months prior.

However, Maas' intuition told her there might be more to it. After explaining the types and causes of lumps, she encouraged the patient to have it looked at by her primary doctor.

"I try to be as honest as possible with my patients so they can make informed decisions about their care," Maas says. "There are many reasons why lumps occur — infections, hard tissue, skin conditions, and in worst cases, cancer. They could be something or nothing. Either way, it's better to be aware of the possibilities."

Although nothing unusual appeared on the patient's mammogram, Maas still felt they should seek additional consultation.

An ultrasound and a biopsy

Fortunately, the patient had an appointment scheduled with their physician for the next week. During the visit, the patient brought up Maas's concerns and an ultrasound was ordered. The ultrasound was abnormal, and a biopsy was recommended. The biopsy showed a type of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma with lobular growth features.

After reviewing the patient's previous mammograms, it became evident that the lump was not missed. It was simply not visible on any mammographic images.

A breast MRI was performed after the diagnosis of breast cancer to make sure there were no other cancers hidden in either breast that were not seen via mammogram or ultrasound. Thankfully, only one mass was seen.

Breast cancers with lobular growth features can be difficult to detect on mammography. According to the oncology staff at Mankato's Breast Clinic, Maas' diligence helped detect the cancer at least a year before it would have surfaced on a routine screening mammogram.

Importance of patient care and open communication

This good catch exemplifies the importance of thorough patient care and open communication between healthcare staff across units.

Maas not only offered emotional support to the patient but also imparted valuable knowledge, ultimately empowering the patient to take an active role in advocating for their own health. Her vigilance and willingness to speak up proved instrumental in catching a potentially life-threatening condition at a stage where intervention could be most effective.

"I have been a technologist for 22 years — more than half my life," says Maas. "Those in healthcare go into the profession hoping to make a difference in the lives of our patients. Sometimes, that difference happens not just through the procedures we perform, but through the human connection and attentiveness we provide."