Fears about breast X-ray pain 'often unfounded'

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The Independent Online
WOMEN expect to suffer more pain during breast X-rays in the national screening programme than they actually experience, according to researchers.

Dr Derek Rutter, social psychologist at the University of Kent, found that only 6 per cent of nearly 600 women felt 'pain' and 35 per cent 'discomfort' and that women who expected pain were more likely to experience it.

In mammography women's breasts are flattened between an X-ray plate and a plastic plate so that as much tissue as possible can be viewed.

A proportion of women have always complained that the mammography is painful. It is believed that women with either very small or large breasts were the most likely to be hurt. But many professionals have sought to minimise this aspect for fear of putting women off screening.

The latest information in today's British Medical Journal found fewer women experiencing pain than had been shown in an earlier study by the university of 3,000 women.

In that group 14 per cent said they had pain and 40 per cent discomfort. Women from a small rural town had the least pain (4-5 per cent); women from a provincial town and from inner London, the most (20 per cent).

In the new study Dr Rutter and colleagues interviewed women attending the Kent and Canterbury Hospital for mammography before and after the X-ray.

Breast size did not make a significant difference to pain levels. Women were asked to rate the pain against other medical or dental treatments.

In this survey mammography was preferable to having a tooth drilled, having a cervical smear test and having a blood test. It produced more discomfort than having blood pressure measured.

Andrea Whalley, director of the Breast Care and Mastectomy Association said: 'Pain is very subjective and everyone experiences it differently. It is terribly arrogant to judge other people's pain.'