If you read about the experience of having a mammogram on the internet, you may wonder about the wide range of emotions provoked by this one procedure. The perception of the mammogram experience is unique to each woman. Some will say “not a big deal” while others will describe the worst possible pain and discomfort. This can be disconcerting and may even become an excuse for not getting annual mammograms, so let’s break it down and take a closer look.
The Physical Experience
The biggest concern seems to be discomfort and pain related to breast compression. Remember there are multiple critical reasons mammography requires compression
, including distinguishing breast cancers from normal tissue and preventing blurring from motion. For most women, the discomfort is brief and while uncomfortable not truly painful. For others, the compression will be painful, rarely severely so. The best news is this: the compression only lasts a few seconds for each view.
There are things you can do to help make the procedure as tolerable as possible. Schedule your mammogram when your breasts are the least tender. For most women, this will be in the first week after your menstrual period. Some medications, including some birth control pills may increase breast sensitivity. Taking over the counter pain relievers prior to your mammogram is usually not necessary, but consider it if your breasts stay tender and you need to get in for your mammogram. Talk to your healthcare provider if there has been recent breast trauma – they might recommend waiting until you are healed prior to getting a routine mammogram.
If the prospect of a mammogram leaves you intimidated because of the intimacy of the exam, remember your mammography technologist and your whole breast imaging team are there for one reason: to get the best images of your breasts for your breast health. These are dedicated, sensitive people doing a critical job, and will happily work with you to make you as comfortable as possible. Going to the same facility every year if possible will also make you more comfortable with the process, as you will know exactly what to expect.
One of the best ways to handle fear is to address it head-on. As the technologist walks you through the process, feel free to admit to concerns. Often times just voicing your fears outloud can alleviate them. If you experience discomfort or pain during the exam, let the technologist know, and they will work with you to get through the procedure. In summary, know that having a mammogram will be a unique experience. Not an easy test, but one that can save your life. Don’t let fear prevent you from getting the care you need.
Originally published 7/5/13 on mammographykc.com