Many women fear mammograms because of the discomfort or pain involved, and up to 46 percent actually avoid the test for this reason. During a mammogram, the breasts are flattened, or compressed, between two plates. The practice improves contrast and provides a clearer view, but it can cause moderate to severe pain in some women.
Allowing women to increase or decrease the degree of compression themselves—called self-compression—can reduce discomfort or pain without compromising the test’s accuracy. A French study of 549 women published in March 2019 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the women who controlled the level themselves could better tolerate higher compression and reported significantly less discomfort or pain than women whose compression was controlled by a technologist. The resulting image quality was no different between the two techniques. In 2017, the FDA approved a new digital mammography unit that uses a handheld wireless remote to give women control over the amount of compression they receive.
This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.