Medical Q&As

Mammogram - very painful?

I have recently been to BreastCheck for a mammogram and found the experience to be very painful. I have very small breasts and I will never forget the pain that I had for the first two X-rays. I previously had a cyst removed from one of my breasts and have given birth to three children but none of these experiences compared to the pain I felt during the mammogram. I donít want to abandon the check altogether but I am wondering if a scan that I would pay for myself would be as good as a mammogram? I really would appreciate your opinion.

In order to get a good quality image of the breast tissue it is necessary to compress the breast so that it is flattened. This allows better inspection of the anatomy of the breast. If the breasts were not sufficiently compressed significant changes could be missed. Compression also ensures that the breasts are fixed in position, which eliminates blurring of the image should you move during the examination. Mammography does involve exposure to small amounts of radiation and compression ensures that the dose of radiation is reduced even further and there is less scatter of radiation to other areas of the body. Unfortunately some women do experience some pain from the compression especially if their breasts are small. It is unfortunate that you have had such a negative experience. There really is no reliable alternative to a mammogram. An ultrasound scan might detect a lump in the breast and could tell if the lump was solid or cystic (hollow). However, it would not give the degree of anatomical detail that is available with a mammogram. Also ultrasound scans have not been shown to be of value in screening programmes. One other consideration is that the first mammogram provides an initial picture of the anatomy of the breast and provides a basis for comparison for future mammograms. I would get back in touch with BreastCheck and let them know of your concern about undergoing the test again. Some screening units do allow the woman being tested to control the compression of her own breasts and this has been found to improve tolerance of the test where pain has previously been a problem.