How to make your next screening as comfortable as possible
You may be worried after your exam about when you’ll get the results and what they might say, Kalidas says. For screening mammograms, you should hear results within ten days. If you haven’t, make sure to call your doctor or the facility.
Clinics are also required to mail you “an easy-to-understand summary” within 30 days, or “as quickly as possible” if the results do suggest the presence of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. You also have the right to ask for a copy of the films if you want them for any reason, or if you need them to bring to another clinic.
“Don’t be alarmed if you’re called back for further testing,” Aragon says. “Sometimes doctors just want to confirm that what they’re seeing is harmless.” Dense breast tissue or a cyst can require a closer look, for example.
Mammography is not infallible, Kalidas says, but it is still relatively effective for detecting cancer—so the technology probably won’t be changing anytime soon, even if it does cause pain and discomfort in some patients.
Research has suggested smaller steps clinics could be taking to decrease discomfort during exams, but so far none has been widely adopted. For instance, one study showed that topical lidocaine gel can ease the pain of mammograms—yet Kalidas says she’s never seen it in practice. Another study suggested that less compression could be just as effective, and presumably less uncomfortable for the patient.
In the end, Kalidas says, keep in mind that while the appointment and getting into position may last around twenty minutes, “the actual compression only takes a few seconds.” That, she adds, is “at least a little comforting.”