Dreading your next mammogram? You’re not alone. The physical pain from this important screening is enough to make many people hesitate before stepping into the doctor’s office. Aside from concerns about chest soreness, it’s not unusual to be anxious about your results, especially if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer.
Some chest pain is normal after a mammogram, and pain tolerance varies from person to person. Here’s what you can expect and how to ensure that pain doesn’t lead to postponing your mammograms.
A few different variables affect the level of pain during a mammogram. For example, some studies suggest that having smaller breasts leads to more pain during mammograms. Health care providers may need to increase the pressure faster and use a greater level of total pressure with smaller breasts. The first phase of the mammogram, which flattens the breast tissue, may cause pain. The second clamping phase, which keeps the breast still, may amplify the pain. If you’ve had painful mammograms in the past, the anticipation of pain can make the experience worse.
Rare cases have been reported when lasting or severe pain after a mammogram was a sign of tissue damage. Some other potential complications include bruising of the skin, a hematoma (blood-filled swelling), and rupturing of breast implants or cysts.
Other contributing factors to how much pain you’ll have during a mammogram include breast density, baseline tenderness, breast volume, your menstrual cycle, your anxiety level, and even the attitude of staff working in the mammography facility. You may also be more prone to mammogram pain if you’ve had a lumpectomy for breast cancer treatments in the past.
Researchers have suggested that shortening the clamping phase of a mammogram and slowing down the rate of compression can make mammograms less painful. You can also let the radiographer know that you’ll tell them when you’ve reached your pain limit during the mammogram. Sometimes, the technician can also suggest position changes that help reduce mammogram pain. Sharing your concerns about pain and asking about these suggestions may help you have a better experience. While some pain is expected, be sure to speak up if you feel like something is wrong.
You will most likely tolerate mammograms well and experience minimal to no pain once one is over. However, some studies mentioned in the journal BMC Women’s Health suggest that a moderate level of pain may be experienced for about four days after a mammogram. Over-the-counter pain medication can usually help you feel more comfortable during this time. Ask your health care provider before applying heating pads, cold packs, or other forms of pain relief to make sure it’s safe for you, especially if you’ve had breast surgery or breast cancer treatments.
Chest wall pain after a mammogram could also be caused by another underlying issue like a pulled chest muscle, inflammation of the ribs, or even gallstones. Sometimes, chest pain — also called angina — may signal heart problems.
If the pain isn’t getting better within a few days of your mammogram (or seems to be getting worse), talk to your doctor to make sure there’s no additional cause for concern. Other signs of a problem may include a flattened implant or sudden swelling of the breast or chest area. Listen to your intuition, and don’t be afraid to speak up about your concerns.
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Did you experience chest or breast pain after your first mammogram appointment? How do you manage the side effects of breast cancer screenings? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.