A mammogram is a type of x-ray that is used to detect and diagnose any growths, benign or malignant, in breast tissue. The breast is placed between two x-ray plates, and pressure is applied at several angles in order to get the best possible reading. While some might feel like this diagnostic test was designed by the Marquis de Sade, if you take these simple precautions, your mammograms don't have to hurt.
1. Most gynecologists recommend that women make their mammogram appointments halfway through their menstrual cycles. Breasts are normally less "lumpy" at this time of the month, and less tender. This will make the test not only more comfortable for you but easier for the radiologists to read.
2. If you're on the Starbucks frequent flyer program, you might not want to hear this, but you may want to eliminate (or reduce) your caffeine consumption for two weeks before the test. It's been shown that caffeine can make your breasts more fibrocystic (this just means you have swollen, benign lumps), and therefore, painful. When your delicate tissues are being squashed between two x-ray plates, you may be thankful for your abstinence. Then go reward yourself with a big cup of joe (if that's your thing) after your appointment. (Note: if you are fibrocystic, and cutting down on the caffeine doesn't help, try taking Vitamin E supplements or evening primrose capsules. Just check with your doctor before taking any supplements.)
3. They aren't kidding when they tell you not to use deodorants, lotions, or powders on your underarm and breast areas before the exam. These cosmetic items may contain particles, such as the aluminum in many antiperspirants, which interfere with the proper reading of your mammogram. Then you would either have the stress of receiving a false positive (stress can create physical pain), or the radiologist will have to redo your films before letting you go (giving you another round of possible discomfort). If you are having your mammogram before work, take your usual deodorant along with you and apply it after your test is done. Many places that do mammograms supply deodorant, but it may not be your brand. And if you absolutely forget and roll it on anyway, let the receptionist know when you check in. You will be given a disposable wet cloth to clean the area.
4. Above all, try to relax! The test only takes a few minutes and only needs to be done once a year. Just tell yourself that it's something that may save your life, so it's worth a tiny bit of (possible) discomfort. If you've taken the above precautions and the prospect of having a mammogram is still giving you more agita than you can bear, try doing some relaxation exercises beforehand. Get comfortable, and take some slow, deep breaths. Imagine yourself as someone who can handle this. In your mind, picture yourself walking into the place where you'll be having the test (if you're not there already), feeling capable and strong. Imagine being called into radiology and seeing yourself get up out of your seat, relaxed and calm, and following the radiologist through the door. Everybody is smiling and helpful. The test goes easily, then you put your clothes back on, and you're done, until next year.
5. A joke or two doesn't hurt either. After all, when you think about it, being stripped to the waist while a total stranger molds your breasts between two x-ray plates is a kind of ridiculous situation. Take your best shot - the radiologist has probably heard them all.
So if your doctor recommends that you have a mammogram, please don't hesitate to make an appointment out of fear that it will be painful. With a little knowledge, and the right attitude, mammograms don't have to hurt.