BROOK, Ill. — The simple application of a pain-relieving gel may reduce the breast discomfort some women experience during mammography exams, according to the results of a clinical trial published online in Radiology.

"We now have something that we know reduces discomfort with screening mammography in women who expect higher discomfort — lidocaine gel," said the trial's principal investigator, Colleen Lambertz, a nurse practitioner at St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise, Idaho. "With a more positive experience, we hope women will undergo more regular mammography screening."

Breast cancer affects more women than any other non-skin cancer and, according to the American Cancer Society, accounts for more than 40,000 deaths annually in the United States. Most experts agree that the best way to decrease breast cancer mortality is through early detection using mammography and clinical breast exam.

For a mammography exam, a radiologic technologist positions the patientis breast on a platform in a mammography unit. The breast is then gradually compressed with a paddle. The patient may feel pressure and occasionally some discomfort or pain. Fear of this discomfort leads many women to avoid mammograms altogether. Studies have shown that as many as two-thirds of women don't follow established guidelines for mammography.