Numbing Gel May Make Mammograms Less Painful

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A study found that women who had a numbing gel applied to their breasts about an hour before having a mammogram experienced less discomfort than women who had a gel without the numbing ingredient (a placebo gel) applied or who took acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol), ibuprofen (one brand name is Advil), or a placebo pill an hour or so before the mammogram.

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen didn't affect the amount of discomfort the women felt during the mammogram.

The numbing gel, such as the Topicaine used in this study, doesn't need a prescription.

About 400 women were part of the study.

Based on these results, applying a numbing gel to the breasts about an hour before a mammogram seems to be a safe and helpful choice for women who have had discomfort during mammograms in the past. The numbing gel also may be a good option for women who don't get regular mammograms because they're worried about pain.

Annual screening mammograms starting at age 40 save lives by finding breast cancer early, when it's most treatable. Still, more than half of women in the United States don't get regular mammograms. Compressing the breast against the X-ray plate during a mammogram helps get the best image. But the compression can be uncomfortable and even quite painful for some women. Fear of this discomfort or pain is a big reason why many women don't get regular mammograms.

This study also found that if a woman was dissatisfied with her most recent mammogram, she was less likely to get her next scheduled mammogram on time. Discomfort/pain was only one factor that influenced mammogram satisfaction. Mammogram satisfaction was higher when:

  • a woman had a personal history of breast cancer
  • the person doing the mammogram clearly explained what was going to happen
  • the person doing the mammogram was attentive to the needs and concerns of the woman during the procedure
  • the person doing the mammogram seemed to genuinely care about the woman having the mammogram

It's not surprising that the person doing the procedure plays an important role in how a woman feels about getting a mammogram. The human touch matters with mammograms and all healthcare.

If you've had discomfort or pain during a mammogram or are putting off having a regular mammogram because you're concerned about discomfort, you might want to try these tips:

  • Do your homework. Ask family, friends, and healthcare professionals about their experiences with various mammogram centers and technicians.
  • Manage your expectations. A mammogram may be uncomfortable, but the bottom line is that it's your health and possibly your life at stake.
  • Manage your anxiety. Bring a friend, your favorite music, or whatever best relaxes you.
  • Stay in control. Before and during the mammogram, let the person doing the mammogram know what you need to make your mammogram experience the best it can be.
  • Think about using a numbing gel on your breasts before you leave for your mammogram. It can be a bit messy but it's safe as long as you aren't allergic to anesthetic medicines.

Never skip a scheduled mammogram without a very good reason AND without talking to your doctor about your concerns and your options. Visit the Mammogram section to learn more, including things to consider when deciding where to get a mammogram.

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