Mammograms are mean! There’s gotta be a better way to check our boobs. Why hasn’t anyone discovered it?
There’s a simple reason compression mammography has been the gold standard for decades—it works. And here’s why: Squashing the breast flat makes ductal tissue easier to distinguish, while reducing the amount of radiation necessary to do so. Studies show it is the most effective approach to breast cancer screening.
That doesn’t mean the experts don’t hear us when we say mammograms are uncomfortable at best and sometimes downright painful. This is especially true for women with larger breasts, though small-breasted women haven’t cornered the market on pain-free screenings, either.
Radiologists are trying to improve the procedure for women. In 2014, a team from the Netherlands released the results of a study of 433 women undergoing screening mammography using both the conventional compression technique and compression based on the individual woman’s breast size and stiffness. The women who were screened with the personalized compression reported significantly less discomfort after their mammograms.
Follow-up studies have found that the personalized technique provides images just as good as those taken with conventional compression. Though you probably won’t see this approach at your local mammography center anytime soon, it’s comforting to know researchers are working on solutions.
In the meantime, don’t skip your conventional mammogram. Follow these five tips to make your experience less unpleasant:
- Schedule your mammogram 10 days after the start of your period. Your breasts are usually less tender by this time. Women’s cycles vary, so the 10-day rule isn’t hard and fast. Aim to have your mammogram when the hormones that contribute to breast tenderness are at their lowest level.
- Pop an over-the-counter pain reliever an hour before your procedure. Make sure it’s an anti-inflammatory, such as Aleve or Advil; Tylenol doesn’t work as well.
- Avoid caffeine. This can make your breasts more tender, so coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas and chocolate are no-nos.
- Talk to your technician. Tell him or her you’ve experienced discomfort in the past. They can make the exam less unpleasant by repositioning you. They may also be able to suggest ways to lessen the anxiety you feel before a mammogram.
- Relax. Try these relaxation techniques to ease pain. And keep in mind that a little short-term discomfort could save your life.