A Passion for Mammography, a Passion for Patients: Celebrating the Career of Michael Linver, MD, FACR, FSBI

By Mary Beth Massat

Michael Linver, MD, FACR, FSBI, still remembers reviewing a mammogram on the second day of his first job in Toledo, Ohio, back in 1976.

“In the middle of the right breast, there was this huge spiculated breast lesion,” he recalls. “I looked at the name on the image, and it was my aunt Bella,” who lived in Toledo. “I was stunned.”

The news got worse. Dr. Linver discovered that Bella---a Holocaust survivor---had been advised by a surgeon a year earlier that the lump she had found then was only a cyst. However, the doctor had not ordered a mammogram or any other test to confirm his assessment.

“I was so angry because I knew this was going to have a terrible end,” he says. “She died one year later. And I resolved I would never see another woman die like this if I could help it.”

Dr. Linver kept his resolution. He has dedicated most of his illustrious, 40-plus year career to breast imaging, only recently retiring from his position as director of the Breast Imaging Center of X-Ray Associates of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The turning point in Dr. Linver’s career arrived 10 years after his aunt’s death, when in 1986 he attended a mammography course by László Tabár, MD, FACR (Hon), whose pioneering research laid the foundation for early cancer detection with screening mammography. “After about five minutes of his very first talk, I had an epiphany,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘This is what I want to do the rest of my life.’

Soon after, Dr. Linver and Martin Rothstein, DO, his partner at X-Ray Associates of New Mexico, started a mobile mammography program to reach patients living in rural areas. After merging with a larger group the following year, he convinced all the radiologists to attend Dr. Tabar’s courses. Two years later, he says, an audit showed impressive results using mammography to detect breast cancer.

“Our group found 50 percent more cancers after being trained by Dr. Tabár, and the cancers were 30 percent smaller. It showed the value of screening mammography if performed right,” he says.

Their success inspired Dr. Linver to become a political proponent of breast cancer screening with mammography. He spearheaded a successful campaign to implement mammography legislation in New Mexico, and was also closely involved in development of the federal Mammography Quality Standards Act.

A clinical professor of radiology at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Linver’s passion for breast imaging also has led him to present over 1,400 lectures in 37 states and 25 countries. He has authored more than 60 articles and textbook chapters on a wide range of mammography and screening-related topics, and continues to actively write and teach.  

Dr. Linver is a past president of the New Mexico chapters of both the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the American Cancer Society. He has also served on the ACR BI-RADS Committee, as well as the ACR’s chair of the Subcommittee on BI-RADS Ultrasound and chair of Breast Ultrasound Accreditation. He is a Fellow of both the ACR and the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI).

Earlier this year, Dr. Linver became only the second private-practice radiologist to receive the SBI’s Gold Medal Award, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to breast imaging and for distinguished service to the SBI and other medical organizations.

“It’s a great honor to be considered with many of the outstanding icons of breast imaging,” he says. “My real love is seeing patients, interacting with them and making a difference in their lives. Until I retired from clinical practice four years ago, I was still reading 5,000 to 10,000 mammograms a year, and it was just a joy.”

An exciting future for breast imaging

Dr. Linver describes mammography as “probably the greatest single medical achievement” of the latter 20th century, and points to contrast-enhanced mammography, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging as additional powerful breast imaging technologies.

“We’ve got a lot of great tools, and now we’ve got AI (artificial intelligence) to make them better. To me, that’s extremely exciting,” he says, nevertheless noting the abundance of technologies is sowing confusion in patients.

“Women are wondering how they should take advantage of these great imaging tools to help find early breast cancer,” Dr. Linver explains. He says establishing new and consistent screening guidelines based on the latest research is key to clarifying the issues, and that radiologists must lead this initiative.

“We have a responsibility to get involved, seize the moment, and go forward,” he says. “I think it’s important that we advocate for our patients, because we are the ones in the trenches and on the front lines taking care of them. It’s the only way we’re going to reduce the number of deaths that are still occurring from breast cancer.”

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A Passion for Mammography, a Passion for Patients: Celebrating the Career of Michael Linver, MD, FACR, FSBI.  Appl Radiol. 

November 30, 2021

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