Now that it's officially Breast Cancer Awareness month, we're sure to be saturated with info about all the different prevention and screening methods for the disease. But it doesn't have to be October for women to get a mammogram. For many, especially women over 40, it's an annual routine exam and, err, well, not exactly the most pleasant one.
A doctor who specializes in the health needs of women, Dr. Yael Varnardo -- aka Dr. V of AskDoctorV.com -- admits, "There can be actual physical discomfort and mental anxiety that goes into the whole [mammogram] process that winds us up." But thankfully, it is possible to make the exam less annoying. Here, Dr. V shared with us her top tips for a more comfortable mammogram ...
Before the exam:
- It's to your own benefit to follow instructions to a tee. For instance ... "Don't wear deodorant, perfumes, or lotions etc., because if they produce specks on the films, then you may have to go for another test," Dr. V explains. "And who wants to do that?"
- Decrease salt intake. "Avoid salty foods the week prior to your test, as they will cause bloating and fluid retention in the breast, and this can lead to more pain and discomfort during your exam," Dr. V says. "And if you are still getting your period, try to time the exam for when your breasts are the least tender and sensitive."
- Similarly, avoid caffeine. Energy drinks and pumpkin spice lattes can cause tender breasts. And, if you have benign cysts in your breast, "the cysts are sensitive to caffeine, so these women should definitely stay away from it 48 hours before their mammogram."
- EMLA (Lidocaine/prilocaine) cream - See if your doctor might prescribe this topical anesthetic cream in advance. "You can rub it on about 30-45 minutes before the exam, then wipe it off before the test. It may not rid 100 percent of pain, but at least may decrease it."
- Pre-exam painkillers - Take a few Advil or Tylenol before the procedure in order to prevent pain or discomfort.
During the exam:
- Wear the right shoes. "Bring flats or comfy shoes (like flip-flops) if you choose to arrive in heels, or simply arrive in comfortable shoes," Dr. V says. "This will make it easier for you to 'get into position' and hold it, thus making the test shorter."
- Go to your happy place. "Try the power of positive thinking and meditation before and during the test," Dr. V recommends. "You CAN GET THROUGH THIS, and you are doing this for your health!
- Bring music. "Try an iPod with small ear buds and -- if they are ok with you having them in place -- listen to music during the procedure."
- Bring hand warmers. "Throw some hand warmers in your purse and rub them on you to warm you up before they place your breasts on the cold plates." You could also ask for the plates to be warmed, to be given a warm gown, or for the room to be heated up.
- Speak up. "Always remember to speak up! This is your health! Ask questions, let them know you’re in pain, etc. They may be able to adjust the machine, compression, and other things to ease your discomfort a bit." Couldn't agree more!
How do you make mammograms less painful?