Mini-massages and manicures are making mammograms less of a hurdle for women who postpone annual appointments.

In recent years, hospitals have organized mammogram parties to promote screenings that can help detect breast cancer early. The pampering has succeeded in attracting participants from underserved populations.

"Anything that encourages women to get screening tests like they should is a great idea," says Susan Brown, director of health education at Susan G. Komen for the Cure's headquarters in Dallas. "Having this test with others can reduce anxiety."

A flier advertised a mammogram party at Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, Ill., whose foundation covers screenings for the uninsured. From 4 to 8 p.m. one weekday in March, the hospital offered free mini-manicures and facials while 24 women awaited their turns with one of two mammographers. Any woman coming for her first-ever mammogram received a coin purse with the hospital's logo, says Louise Fellmann, women's health patient navigator.

The flier was an "oh, gosh, I need to do that" reminder, she says. "What's the harm in having fun if you can get women in for their mammograms who otherwise may not have come?" A second party is planned for September.

Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee has partnered with a radio station to organize mammogram parties since 2005. Listeners nominate women who meet mammogram recommendations but haven't scheduled screenings. Fundraising pays for the uninsured, says Terese Beauchamp, regional manager of women's health and community education.

This year, the program will expand to screen a total of 50 women at five locations in eastern Wisconsin. Participants are treated to a full breakfast buffet with quiches, yogurt parfaits and fresh fruit.

"A draw is definitely having the radio personality," Beauchamp says. "She treats the ladies who come like they've been her girlfriends for 25 years."

Mammogram parties often start out small, and hospitals change venues as they grow larger. More than 100 women attended the May 2009 event held by Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Mich. It took place at the Greater Muskegon Woman's Club.

Underserved women received tickets from their mammographers, says Anne Hoekenga, imaging quality coordinator at Mercy, which has organized the parties about once every two years around Mother's Day since 2003. "It's a good gift to give your mother," she says. 

A Komen grant or the hospital's mammography fund pays for the screenings. The American Red Cross or American Cancer Society will step in if lack of transportation presents a barrier, Hoekenga says. 

Participants are treated to a sack lunch and cakes festooned with pink ribbons. Each woman gets a gift, usually a potted flower. Treat bags contain nail files, mirrors and educational materials about breast cancer awareness. Other offerings have included a dance contest, fashion show, manicures and chair massages. 

"Most importantly, we were able to detect cancer early in two of our women" at the last event, Hoekenga says. "That's what the party is all about."