Minimizing Pain and Discomfort During Mammography

The benefit of mammography in helping to detect breast cancer e General Information on Mammography | Mammography | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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General Information on Mammography

Minimizing Pain and Discomfort During Mammography

The benefit of mammography in helping to detect breast cancer early clearly outweighs the temporary discomfort of the exam. However, some women do find mammograms to be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Several studies over the last 10 years have isolated a number of factors that influence a woman's comfort level during mammography. These factors include:

  • Breast compression
  • Friendliness and sensitivity of the mammography technologist(s)
  • Facility atmosphere and procedures

By surveying women about their experiences with mammograms, researchers offer suggestions on how to minimize discomfort during mammography.

To alleviate much of the pain associated with mammography, patients may wish to:

  • Find a "friendly" mammography facility with knowledgeable mammography technologists
  • Control the breast compression themselves during mammography
  • Change mammography facilities when dissatisfied with care/service
  • Use calming self-statements and learn distraction techniques to use during mammography

Some mammography facilities will allow the patient to control the breast compression herself during mammography. This can greatly reduce anxiety, making the woman feel more comfortable during the procedure, both physically and emotionally. Women should feel free to ask the technologist about controlling breast compression themselves when scheduling the exam or before the exam begins.

Researchers have found that a woman often feels more comfortable during a mammogram with a courteous technologist who can provide thoughtful answers to her questions. Knowledgeable technologists can also help women with distraction techniques to take their minds off the exam. In a study published in the February 2000 issue of the journal Radiology, researchers found that factors associated with mammogram discomfort included the facility itself, satisfaction with care, and the patient's perception of the technologist's "roughness."

If women are not satisfied with the quality of care they receive at one facility, they should feel free to change facilities. However, it is important that a patient obtain her original mammogram films if she changes facilities so that future films may be compared to them. Learn more about minimizing pain and discomfort during mammography.

Skin Markers During Mammography

Images Courtesy of Beekley Corporation

Many mammography facilities now use skin markers to help radiologists readily identify the nipple, surgical scars, raised moles, or other normal features on the breast. These markers are placed on the patient's breast skin before her mammogram and can easily be identified on the patient's resulting mammogram films. Markers may also be used to alert the radiologist to a breast abnormality that warrants close examination, such as a lump. The markers are either opaque or see-through and come in a variety of different shapes that correspond to different features on the breast. For example, the Beekley skin marker system uses a small pellet marker to indicate the nipple, a triangular marker to indicate a worrisome lump or mass, an S-shaped marker to indicate surgical scars, and a circular marker to encircle raised moles on the breast. The markers are made in such as way so they do not obscure any breast tissue.

By immediately identifying normal or worrisome areas of the patient's breast, the markers help save the radiologist time and confusion when reading the patient's mammogram film. Many physicians believe these markers are more useful than solely noting moles or other features on mammogram sketches because the shape of the breast is altered when it is compressed during the mammogram exam. Thus, the resulting films may not show a mole in the same area as noted by the technologist on a mammogram sketch. Nipple markers are especially useful because they help the technologist position the patient and verify that the nipple is in profile before the exposure is taken. The markers use adhesive similar to a Band-Aid and are easily removed after the mammogram.

Special Mammography Techniques:

In some cases, special mammography techniques are used to make a small area of breast tissue or a suspected abnormality easier to evaluate. Depending on the type of abnormality and its location in the breast, one of these special mammography techniques (spot compression and magnification views) maybe used.

More information on special mammogram views.

Additional Information on Mammography

Imaginis provides several other articles on mammography to help women understand all aspects of the exam. Click on one of the links below for additional information on mammography: