Essential Tips for a Less Painful Mammogram

How to make your mammogram experience less unpleasant

Let's face it—mammograms can be uncomfortable. For many women, though, they're even worse than merely unpleasant. They're also quite painful. This is especially true of women with larger breasts, though being small breasted can raise your risk of pain as well. In fact, some women experience mammograms that hurt so much, they avoid getting mammograms as often as breast cancer screening guidelines recommend.

Why are mammograms so essential? Because they can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. This is the primary goal of mammograms, in fact, is to find a breast cancer when it is still too early for the cancer to have any outward signs or symptoms.

Mammograms can also be used (along with other studies) to check for breast cancer after a breast lump or other sign or symptom of breast cancer has been found.

Luckily, mammograms don't have to be painful. Follow these simple tips for a less painful mammogram.

1
Schedule Your Mammogram 10 Days After You Start Your Period

Woman getting mammogram
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About 10 days after your period begins is the ideal time to have a mammogram done. The breasts are usually less tender at this time, reducing the amount of pain you may experience during the screening.

Since women's cycles vary, the 10 day guideline can also vary. The goal is to do the mammogram when hormones which contribute to breast tenderness are at their lowest level. If your cycle is 28 days, day 10 (plus or minus a few days) is a good ball park. If your cycle is longer, say 36 days, day 18 might be better. The rule of thumb is to have a mammogram done around 18 days before your next expected period.

It's important to note that every woman is different. Mid cycle may actually be a time when you have more tenderness. If you find mammograms very uncomfortable you may want to keep a journal for a few months. On each day of the months you can rank your breast tenderness at between a 1 an 10. This may help you learn the time of month that will be most comfortable for you personally to have a mammogram done.

2
Take an Over-the-Counter Pain Reliever an Hour Before Your Mammogram

You may wish to take an over-the-counter pain medication such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) an hour before your mammogram is scheduled to be done.

We don't know exactly how effective this is, but it, in general, can't hurt. Anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or Aleve may work a little, though pre-treatment with Tylenol (acetominophen) does not appear to be effective. Taking a medication beforehand may also help you cope with any lingering discomfort after your mammogram has been completed.

Certainly, it's important to avoid these medicines if you have a condition such as peptic ulcer disease or kidney disease.

If you pain is particularly severe with a mammogram, enough so that you are foregoing the screening test, talk to your doctor about using a single dose of a prescription pain reliever just before your mammogram.

3
Avoid Caffeine Before Your Mammogram.

Since caffeine can cause your breasts to be more tender, consider holding off on caffeinated beverages for the week before your mammogram.

This includes coffee and tea, soda containing caffeine, and also foods such as chocolate with caffeine.

4
Talk to Your Mammogram Technician About Positioning

One simple way to cope with an uncomfortable mammogram is to simply talk to your mammogram technician about repositioning. Many times, changing the angle of your breast in the machine by only a small amount can reduce your discomfort.

Studies are in progress looking at whether or not a lower compression force can decrease pain while still providing satisfactory films.

5
Be An Empowered Patient - Decreasing Anxiety May Decrease Pain

It's been found that part of the anxiety regarding mammograms stems from the fear of pain, and the fear of pain and can heighten anxiety. It's well known that pain and anxiety go hand and hand. For this reason, finding ways to decrease your anxiety may, in itself, help to reduce the discomfort of your procedure.

How can you lower your anxiety? Talk to your physician, your radiologist, and take the time to read and learn about breast cancer screening.

Find out if there is any way that you can get your mammography results right away, something which has been shown to substantially decrease anxiety (by a factor of at least 75 percent.) If your clinic does not ordinarily have a radiologist talk to women about their results right away, you may wish to share the result of the 2016 study below which stresses the importance and benefits of this service.

Finally, plan ahead. Try out these relaxation methods which have been found to reduce chronic pain. Thankfully, the pain related to mammography is short-term, yet these exercises may help. Some pain is likely inevitable, and you may need to bit the bullet and remind yourself that a little pain now could potentially save you a lot of pain in the future.

Sources:

Lee, J., Hardesty, L., Kunzler, N., and A. Rosenkrantz. Direct Interactive Public Education by Breast Radiologists About Screening Mammography: Impact on Anxiety and Empowerment. Journal of the American College of Radiology. 2016. 13(11S):R89-R97.

Miller, D., Livingstone, V., and P. Herbison. Interventions for Relieving the Pain and Discomfort of Screening Mammography. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008. (1):CD002942.

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