Lidocaine gel helps discomfort, pain from mammograms

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Over-the-counter lidocaine gel, a topical anesthetic (numbs up your skin) applied to the breasts and chest about an hour before a mammogram reduce discomfort and pain, according to a study published online at Radiology.

Some women won’t get a mammogram due to this discomfort. The breast has to be somewhat compressed in order for the test to be effective. This study showed that lidocaine gel be worth a try.

The women studied were expecting “substantial discomfort” during the mammogram. They were given either acetaminophen, ibuprofen, lidocaine gel (4 percent) or placebo (no active ingredient) tablets or gel. The lidocaine gel group reported an average 20 percent decrease in discomfort from all of the others. The ibuprofen and acetaminophen were no better than the placebos.

The authors found no decrease in mammogram quality, but check with your doctor or the mammogram center before you apply this. The study was small, and other things like deodorants and powders have been thought to potentially decrease the test accuracy of testing.

Other tips to avoid discomfort:

  • Avoid caffeine for a few days prior to the study. It can increase breast discomfort in some.
  • If you have increased breast tenderness or swelling at a certain time of the month, schedule around this.
  • Ask about padding for the machine.
  • Ask if it is possible for you to control the compression pressure. Some let you; some don’t.

This quest for a pain-free mammogram is a work in progress. Does anyone else have any tips?

Here’s a video on how to do a breast self-exam.

Also don’t forget regular professional exams.

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2 Responses to “Lidocaine gel helps discomfort, pain from mammograms”

  1. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » Should women do breast self-exams? A family doctor’s view. Says:

    [...] HomeMedical TopicsAsk the Doctor!Meet the ExpertsRecipesDiscussionsBlogs Home » Blogs « Lidocaine gel helps discomfort, pain from mammograms [...]

  2. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » Dangers of lidocaine gel, other skin numbing agents: Is lidocaine really safe for mammograms? Says:

    [...] while back, I blogged about a study that suggested over-the-counter lidocaine gel decreases the discomfort of a mammogram. (The gel numbs the skin after you rub it [...]

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