Does mammography hurt?

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2003 Jan;25(1):53-63. doi: 10.1016/s0885-3924(02)00598-5.


The documented incidence of pain associated with screening mammography varies from 1% to 62%. Some researchers suggest that pain may undermine compliance with screening mammography. As a part of a quality improvement project, we have surveyed women undergoing mammography in 2 centers in Jerusalem to identify the prevalence, severity, and duration of mammography-associated pain, demographic risk factors, and the degree that this may undermine compliance with breast cancer screening. A 23-item questionnaire was administered to 399 women (32% at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center [SZMC] and 68% at the Rachel Nash Comprehensive Breast Clinic [HALA]). Of the total, 77% of the women reported that the procedure was painful. Of those reporting pain, 60% described pain intensity as moderate or severe. In 67%, the pain resolved within 10 minutes. By univariate analysis, the only significant predictor for pain during mammography was cyclic breast pain (P = 0.053). No significant correlation was identified for age, breast size, pre-mammography counseling, and examination center (SZMC vs. HALA). The prevalence of pre-mammography counseling or explanation was low (51%). Despite that, 61% of the respondents expected that mammography would be painful. Indeed, most of those who anticipated pain reported that the actual severity was not greater than the anticipated severity. Even among women who reported pain of moderate or greater severity, less than 5% expressed preference to receive pre-emptive analgesia prior to their next mammogram. A substantial minority of women acknowledged that the experience of their mammography invoked reactions that may impend future compliance; 26% reported anxiety and 12% reported pain as factors that may interfere with ongoing compliance with regular mammographic screening. These data serve to emphasize the need for appropriate pre-test counseling and suggest a possible role for post-test debriefing to address those factors which may interfere with future test compliance.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / adverse effects*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prevalence
  • Time Factors