The American Cancer Society reports that about 125 new cases of breast cancer occur for every 100,000 women every year. Furthermore, about 22 deaths occur from breast cancer for every 100,000 women yearly.
As of 2011, nearly 3 million women were living with breast cancer in the United States.
The National Cancer Institute recommends mammography, an x-ray technique done on the breast, as one of the standard screening tests for breast cancer. This test helps find tumors that are too small to detect during a clinical breast examination.
Studies found that death rates from breast cancer are reduced because of regular breast cancer screening by mammography. Experts therefore recommend that women get their first mammogram at age 40 and every two years thereafter. Doctors may advise some women who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer to get a mammogram before age 40 or to have it more often than others do.
Some women, however, are not comfortable about getting regular mammogram screenings, especially after they have had a painful experience on their first test. One study showed that the major source of pain from a mammogram was the compression of the breast during the procedure. Survey participants were asked to rate the level of pain they experienced on a scale of zero to ten. Although some participants reported no pain and others rated their mammogram pain a 10, most women compared their discomfort to a mild headache that is around 4 out of 10.
The tenderness or pain is usually short-lived, but others may still feel some discomfort or pain after a few hours.
Factors that may increase your likelihood of experiencing pain during a mammogram include:
- The time of month in your menstrual cycle - breast tenderness is usually greater a few days before your menses, so it is best to schedule your mammogram a few days after your period.
- Fibrocystic breast disease - women who have lumpy breasts usually experience more discomfort.
- The technician's skill.
To reduce pain and discomfort, some imaging centers use Mammo-Pads, or soft foam pads that cushion your breast from the surface of the mammography device without affecting the x-ray image. Studies show that about most women experience a significant decrease in discomfort when using the pads.
Another study compared the effects of taking oral acetaminophen, oral ibuprofen, and topical lidocaine (a numbing agent) before a mammogram. Results showed that applying a numbing gel on the breasts decreased pain compared to the oral medications.
Mammography is an effective way of reducing deaths from breast cancer because it allows early detection and treatment of the disease. If you have concerns about getting the test, talk to your doctor about it. It is also best to make sure that the mammogram facility you are using is FDA-accredited, which ensures that it meets professional standards of quality and safety.
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