How can I make my mammogram hurt less?

Asked by Paula, San Diego, California

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I had my first mammogram yesterday and my breasts are still really sore. I am fairly small-chested, and the tech said that usually makes it hurt more. What can I do for the pain now, and is there anything I can do to make it hurt less next time?

Expert Bio PictureLiving Well ExpertDr. Jennifer ShuPediatrician,
Children’s Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for writing. I definitely feel your pain! In fact, it has been reported that over 60% of women complain of severe pain during the mammogram procedure itself. However, fortunately, the pain usually subsides within 10 minutes of completion of the study.

Because of the compression that takes place during a mammogram, some women continue to be sore for a few days or longer. This may especially be the case when multiple images need to be repeated. Even if there’s no visible bruising on the skin, the tissue may have been damaged enough to cause ongoing pain. For current pain, you may find relief from over-the-counter pain medicines or using a cold pack (such as an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a thin towel) applied periodically to your chest.

Some physicians recommend taking oral acetaminophen or ibuprofen about an hour before a mammogram to help reduce the pain, but studies have not proven this practice to be effective. I don’t see a downside to trying though, as long as you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to the medication.

There has also been a report that using an over-the-counter 4% lidocaine gel product on the skin may be more effective than oral pain relievers. Other solutions may include letting the patient control the application of the compression or using a thin pad or cushion around the breast. These last techniques may cause the images to be of poorer quality, thereby potentially being inaccurate or requiring repeated X-rays.

Next time you’re scheduled for a mammogram, you may want to talk to your doctor about the latest pain control options available. Good luck!


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