Dense breast tissue is an independent risk factor for breast cancer, both increasing our risk of breast cancer and decreasing the sensitivity of mammography to detect breast cancer. Increased breast density, as identified by mammography, can negatively impact the ability of mammography to detect breast cancer. Further, women with dense breast tissue have a 3-5 fold increased risk for breast cancer, over those without significant breast density.
Have you avoided having a mammogram due to fear of ‘pain’ from the testing? This question came up on a recent vacation, while chatting with some of my (non-medical) girlfriends. They related knowing women who’ve avoided having a mammogram because of concerns of the mammogram being too painful. They suggested I write a post about it.
Having ordered many mammograms for women over the years (and having experienced a few myself), though the occasional woman may relate ‘pain’ with the mammogram, most women do not describe the test as “painful”. Uncomfortable and scary…yes. But then again, pain is a subjective matter. In a recent study polling 200 women on their level of pain with a mammogram, 72% rated the “pain” as that equal to a ‘tight fitting shoe’, or a ‘mild headache’. Which of us hasn’t pushed on through their day with a tight fitting shoe, or a mild headache?
Our breasts tend to be more full and tender the week before our menstrual period. If you’re concerned about pain with the mammogram, I’d suggest scheduling the test just after your menstrual period, and not the week or so before your period. Caffeine can cause breast pain as well, so avoiding caffeinated beverages the week or so before the mammogram may also help. An over-the-counter pain reliever taken prior to the mammogram is an option as well.
Apprehension about having a mammogram is understandable. Our breast on a metal plate, with a second plate coming down to compress it…is scary. But, in my opinion, not scarier than the possibility of a missed diagnosis of breast cancer.
Speak with your healthcare provider about scheduling your mammogram, as well as ways to make the testing more comfortable.
Suzanne Hall, MD (@drsuzyyhall)
Eastside Gynecology Obstetrics, PC
Offices in Roseville, Grosse Pointe, Macomb, Rochester, MI
In discussing the concerns of Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) with patients in the office, it’s evident that ‘the fear’ of developing breast cancer from hormone use, by far outweighs the benefits of use, for many women. With breast cancer being the number one cancer diagnosed among US women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths (second to lung cancer,) those concerns are certainly understandable.
Though concern for an association of breast cancer from hormone use have perplexed patients and the medical community for many years, in the last 10 years, that level of concern has escalated to nearly a level of fear. Despite some public perception of hormones as the cause of breast cancer, the medical evidence does not support hormones as a cause for breast cancer. Unlike the causal link between smoking and most cases of lung cancer, a causal link between hormone use and breast cancer has not been established. In fact, the cause of breast cancer is still unknown.