Women dreading the prospect of another painful mammogram can, according to researchers, relieve some of the breast discomfort by using a pain-relieving gel.
They say the simple application of the lidocaine gel may help reduce the breast pain experienced by many women during mammography exams.
The researchers from St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise, Idaho, conducted a clinical trial involving 418 women, ages 32 to 89, who expected significant discomfort with screening mammography - 54 of the women admitted they had delayed their mammograms due to concern over possible discomfort.
Experts say mammography is the only screening tool proven to reduce mortality from breast cancer in women over 40 and annual screening is the most important option available to a woman to ensure early detection and decrease the chance of being diagnosed with an advanced stage breast cancer.
However research has shown that as many as two-thirds of women fail to follow established guidelines for mammography and the researchers say breast tenderness, anxiety and expectation of pain are all directly correlated with the amount of discomfort women experience with mammography.
For a mammogram the breast is positioned on a platform in a mammography unit and then gradually compressed with a paddle - the pressure can cause unpleasant discomfort and pain which leads many women to avoid mammograms altogether.
The women in the trial were randomly chosen to receive placebos or pre-medication with acetaminophen, ibuprofen and/or a local anesthetic gel before their mammogram.
The gel was applied to the skin of the breasts and chest wall and then removed 30 to 65 minutes before mammography so that it had no effect on subsequent image quality.
The results showed that while oral medication produced no significant differences in breast discomfort, nor did other factors such as breast density, women who received a topical application of 4 percent lidocaine gel reported significantly less breast discomfort during the mammogram.
Lead researcher, nurse practitioner Colleen Lambertz, says there is now something that is known to reduce the discomfort of mammograms for women who expect more discomfort and the more positive experience provided by the lidocaine gel will hopefully encourage women to undergo more regular mammography screening.
Experts say breast cancer affects more women than any other non-skin cancer and accounts for many thousands of deaths annually and the best way to decrease breast cancer mortality is through early detection using mammography and clinical breast exam.
Lambertz says the study was designed around safe and available over-the-counter products in order to put women more in control and offer them a more comfortable and satisfactory experience.
Following the trial 88% of study participants said they would definitely have a mammogram the following year, while 10 percent said they probably would.
The researchers say Lidocaine gel is an easily available, over-the-counter anesthetic that is simple to apply and remove.
They advise women to apply the gel at home one hour prior to their appointment and remove it just before undergoing the exam.
Lambertz says this gives women control over the situation and she advises women to schedule a mammogram for a time in their cycle when their breasts are least tender, and apply the gel at home before going for the mammogram.
The study is published in Radiology.