Recent research indicates that efforts to reduce pain and discomfort associated with screening mammograms for breast cancer have generally been unsuccessful. This study was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast that can reveal irregularities and help detect cancer early when it is most treatable. A screening mammogram is a mammogram performed on a woman with no signs or symptoms of breast cancer. Mammography uses X-rays as well as breast compression to detect early breast cancers. Many women find the breast compression portion of the mammogram painful and as a result may not undergo screening mammography as recommended.
In this recent research review, the authors identified seven different studies that evaluated pain or discomfort associated with mammograms as well as various approaches that may have impacted the quality of the mammogram. An assessment of the quality of the image produced by the mammogram was also required. These seven studies included a total of 1,671 women. Because the studies evaluated different methods of reducing pain and discomfort, the results could not be combined. The following are results for each approach:
- In some studies women were given information about reduction of pain and discomfort prior to their mammogram. It was found that this may help reduce pain and discomfort.
- A method that allowed women to control the amount of breast compression did reduce pain and discomfort. The quality of the mammogram image, however, was compromised with this method.
- In a study where the mammogram technologist controlled the first compression, mammography images were improved, although the discomfort experienced by the women was unchanged.
- Another alternative included the use of breast cushions to reduce the pain associated with breast compression, which was useful in reducing pain, but resulted in impaired image quality among 2% of women.
- The use of acetaminophen (Tylenol ®) as a premedication did not reduce discomfort.
The authors concluded that there are currently very few effective ways to reduce pain associated with screening mammograms. Further research is needed, as mammography continues to be the preferred method for breast cancer screening.
Reference: Miller D, et al. Interventions for relieving the pain and discomfort of screening mammography. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2002, Issue 4. Art No. CD002942.