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Does breast size impact mammogram pain?

By The Health News Team | October 12, 2023
Does breast size impact mammogram pain?

There’s no doubt that mammograms save lives. In fact, breast cancer’s mortality rate has dropped 30% since doctors started using them. So why, then, do many women skip this important screening?

A common reason is fear of the mammogram itself. One of the many myths about mammograms is that they hurt — and that the pain intensifies if your breasts are particularly big or small. Dr. Tere Trout, a diagnostic radiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, weighs in on this.

“Mammograms are generally not painful.," Dr. Trout says. "The compression can cause a little discomfort, but I have not found a woman’s breast size to play a role at all.”

However, there are other factors that could affect your experience. A woman’s menstrual cycle can make her breasts more sensitive. To decrease potential discomfort, avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before your period. Caffeine can also increase breast tenderness, so steer clear of coffee a day or two before your appointment.

What to expect during your exam

During your visit, a technologist will position your breast between two plastic plates and compress the plates to take a picture. Women with larger breasts or breast implants may need a few additional images. These compressions take seconds, and the appointment itself is usually complete in 20 minutes.

So what happens if you do feel pain? Tell your technologist immediately. While the compression can be uncomfortable, it shouldn’t hurt. The technologist can work with you to better position your breast.

The bigger risk with mammograms is not getting one. It is recommended that women age 40 and up get screened annually. Skipping it can put your health at risk.

“I tell women that they should put their concern for their health over their sense of anxiety,” says Dr. Trout. “A mammogram is the gold standard for breast cancer detection. If you’re worried, ask a friend or family member to go with you. But go.”

Learn more about mammography services at Sharp HealthCare.

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