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Mammogram Pain Mild, But Necessary

<P>For Many, Waiting For Breast Cancer Test Results Is the Hardest Part</P>
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WebMD Health News

April 14, 2003 -- Mammograms are no fun, but they're not that bad either. In fact, most of the women who took part in a new study say mammogram pain is mild -- comparing it to a pair of tight-fitting shoes or a mild headache.

A group of researchers from Wake Forest University wanted to see if mammogram pain is a deterrent, keeping women away from what is the best available test for finding breast cancer early. So they asked 200 women immediately after they had their mammograms about the pain they experienced. Did it come from having to raise their arm? From the skin being stretched? From the plate pressing against their ribs or sternum? Or did it come from breast compression? On a scale of zero to 10, how would they rate the mammogram pain?

The women were also asked about the difference between their experience and their expectations -- and what the most stressful part of the procedure was.

No surprise -- the major source of mammogram pain was the compression of the breast, reports lead researcher Penny C. Sharp, EdD, professor of family medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. Her study appears in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine.

But most women -- 72% -- rated mammogram pain around a four on a scale of zero to 10, about like shoes that fit a little too tight or a mild headache, Sharp tells WebMD. "That's not to say that some rated it a 10 and some said they felt no pain, which I kind of doubt. I think the thing is, it's painful while you're having the mammogram, but it's very short-lived. You don't still feel it later in the afternoon."

"One thing that helps, the machines are better now than they used to be," Sharp says.

Caffeine didn't make a difference in mammogram pain level; neither did a woman's cup size, her age, or her ethnicity, Sharp reports. "We're no longer recommending that women give up caffeine for a few days before their test. That's certainly good, since many women have a great deal of trouble giving it up."

However, she did find that premenopausal women and women who had their last period during the eight to 14 days before their mammogram had more mammogram pain. Those who were having their period at the time of their mammogram seemed to have less mammogram pain.

By far, the most stressful part of the mammogram experience is waiting for test results, to find out if you have breast cancer, Sharp says. "Women are very frightened of breast cancer. To go in and have the test, then to wait for several days or longer to get results is very stressful for them. "

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