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The big squeeze

OK, so maybe a mammogram isn’t your idea of fun. No procedure that involves flattening your breasts between two plastic plates could ever be described as enjoyable.

But consider the lifesaving potential of this test: A mammogram can detect breast cancer—the second leading cause of cancer death in women—years before you’d ever feel a lump. And when detected early, before it has a chance to spread, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent.

While mammograms can be uncomfortable, you can take the edge off with these steps:

  • Schedule your mammogram for a few days after your period has ended, when breasts are less tender. Avoid the week before your period.
  • Take a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen an hour before your mammogram.
  • Avoid caffeine for two days before your test. Caffeine can increase breast tenderness.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have breast implants. Special care is needed when compressing breast implants to ensure they don’t rupture. The breasts must also be positioned and analyzed differently.
  • Ask your X-ray technician about thin, foam pads—such as the MammoPad—that can be placed between your breast and the mammography machine to lessen pain. Studies show the pads don’t interfere with imaging and can greatly reduce discomfort, allowing the X-ray technician to compress breasts more—without increased discomfort—to get better images.
  • Dress to undress. Mammograms require that you strip down to the waist, so wearing a two-piece outfit may help you feel less exposed.

Don’t let fear of discomfort keep you from getting a mammogram. Remember, just a few seconds of grin-and-bear-it could save your life.