10 Secrets to a More Bearable Mammogram

Health Check 10

mammogramNow 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 ...

More from The Stir: 5 Things You May Not Know About Mammograms

Before the exam:

  1. 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?"
  2. 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."
  3. 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."
  4. 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."
  5. Pre-exam painkillers - Take a few Advil or Tylenol before the procedure in order to prevent pain or discomfort.

During the exam:

  1. 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."
  2. 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!
  3. 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."
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

cancer, breasts, medical tests


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nonmember avatar Christy Adams

If you have fibrocystic breast disease caffeine is a no no for a few days before and after. Even with ibuprofen before and a few days after, I was extremely sore, but will take the uncomfortable versus the alternative any day of the week.

Tracys2 Tracys2

I thought they'd only take a few seconds, just position, squish, X-ray pic, move on, out of the room 1 minute later. Different shoes and music make it sound like you're there fore ages.

nonmember avatar Lynn

Why in god's name is anyone still getting this barbaric and outdated procedure, when thermography is available??

jessi... jessicasmom1

I am just approching the time where I need to get my first one

nonmember avatar PC

Lynn, you are giving out misinformation. Thermography does not replace mammography.
Mammography is the current standard of care and not at all outdated.
What is barbaric is that in this day & age, women are still being diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage than it has to be simply just because they don't want or fear a mammogram. Why would you prefer to find it later when a simple squeeze can find it way earlier?
There are so many things people need to do for health that are more difficult than a mammogram: dental visits, pap smears, colonoscopy, etc. Don't think for a second that men have it easy either. Prostate biopsies are done with an ultrasound probe up their rectum and a long needle inserted behind the family jewels.
Barbaric is people getting waxing, tattoos & piercings (none of which can save your life) but whine about a mammogram's 2 sec squeeze.
I work in mammography and if you could see what I see every day, there's no way you would want to skip a mammogram. :-(

nonmember avatar Linda

I've noticed that since my hospital is using a digital scanner, the procedure is much less painful and more comfortable.

zumba... zumbafreak11

Thank God I don't have to think about getting one done for 7 years.  I've heard they're a pain in the ace, really uncomfy and sometimes your boobs don't even fit in properly which I'm sure's going to be my case when I have to have my first one.  I have huge boobs.

Gail Marie

I have had two done, because I had lumps in my breast. I have fibrocystic breast. Yes it hurt but for me it was worth the pain to find out what the lumps are. My breast are kind of on the smaller size. What age do I have to be to get them? I am now 40yrs. I was 26-27 years old when I had my first two.

KAV1970 KAV1970

@ PC - actually thermography finds things years BEFORE a mammogram will detect anything. No, they aren't perfect, but if this works just as well & can get me on a path that could help prevent anything from forming in the future I'd rather go that route. Not only are women exposed to high doses of radiation in mammography, there really is no proof they save lives, there are MANY false/positives which cause undue stress & expensive biopsies. Also, I'm sure it doesn't help if you do have a tumor to have it squished & possibly broken open during the procedure. I'm not saying thermography is perfect, but it is definitely less invasive & painful than a mammography. We women should have the choice as to what we want to use. Do research on BOTH & make the decision that is right FOR YOU, not someone else.

nonmember avatar Lann

please don't spread misinformation about thermograms. Thermograms were popular in the 50s and 60s. In the 1970s they were compared to mammograms in several large scale clinical trials--and it was found that they predicted no better than throwing a coin up in the air.

Moreover, there are no standards for reading them--so quacks often use them to tell people what they want to hear.

They do provide different information from a mammogram--so if someone wants to use them to supplement the information from their mammograms they are welcome to do so. It is less invasive than a mammogram--but so completely inaccurate that it isn't worth the time.

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