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Mammograms a Pain? Gel Helps

Using Lidocaine Gel Prior to Mammogram Can Reduce Breast Discomfort Associated With Cancer Screening
WebMD Health News

July 22, 2008 -- Are you putting off getting a mammogram? It's easy for women to wince at the mere thought of getting screened for breast cancer.

A new study shows that a numbing gel eases pain associated with getting a mammogram and may make women more likely to return for subsequent screenings.

The study's lead author says in a news release that the numbing gel may act as a simple secret weapon: "We now have something that we know reduces discomfort with screening mammography in women who expect higher discomfort -- lidocaine gel."

Nurse practitioner Colleen Lambertz, with St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute, says in a statement that reducing pain may mean more mammograms. "With a more positive experience, we hope women will undergo more regular mammography screening."

Painful Mammograms

Researchers gathered 418 women aged 32 to 89 years old.

All the participants had expected to have discomfort during a mammogram. In fact, 54 of the participants said they had "probably or definitely" delayed getting a mammogram because of the perceived discomfort associated with it.

The women were surveyed before the screening and after.

They were divided into three groups and given acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and/or the lidocaine gel before the mammogram. All of the medications were chosen because they are easy to get, over the counter, and have few side effects.

Less Pain After Mammogram Gel

Researchers found that those who received the numbing gel had "significantly" less breast discomfort.

Those who took the oral medications did not report significant easing of breast discomfort.

During a mammogram, the breasts are squeezed and pressed with a paddle so the X-ray can zone in to the dense tissue.

Women who expected to have a lot of discomfort during the mammogram did, as did women who had tender breasts.

Eighty-eight percent of the participants said they would "definitely" go back for a screening in the next year. Ten of the participants said they "probably" would go for their annual mammogram.

"Mammography is the only screening tool proven to reduce mortality from breast cancer in women over 40," according to prepared statements from study co-author James R. Maxwell, MD, medical director of St. Luke's Breast Care Services.

"Annual screening is the most important option available to a woman to best ensure early detection and decrease the chance of being diagnosed with an advanced stage breast cancer."

In background information published with the findings, study authors write that breast cancer accounts for "one-fifth of all deaths in women aged 40 to 50 years old."

The recent decrease in death rates from breast cancer is directly linked to better and increased screenings through mammograms.

The authors write, "Still, recent reports suggest that approximately one-half to two-thirds of women do not follow established guidelines for mammography."

As for the guidelines, the National Cancer Institute recommends that women get their first mammogram beginning at age 40 and every one to two years thereafter. Check with your doctor, as sometimes a screening mammogram is recommended before age 40 in women at higher than average risk.

The findings appear in the online edition of Radiology.

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