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Only 1 In 3 Women Perform Breast Self Exams

September 15, 2008

A new survey conducted by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Britain’s leading breast cancer charity, has found that only 35% of women regularly check their breasts for signs of cancer, and 23% never or seldom do. 

The survey included 2,005 women between the ages of 18 and 64, and found that nearly 4 in 10 (37%) who reported not regularly examining their breasts did not know how to perform the checks or what signs or to look for. 

Breast cancer is Britain’s most common form of cancer, with nearly 46,000 women diagnosed each year in the UK.

The charity is launching a new initiative to encourage more women to regularly check their breasts for changes, and to report any suspicious findings to their doctor.  Early diagnosis of breast cancer greatly improves the chances of successful treatment.

“We know that the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed the more likely it is that treatment will be successful,” Dr Sarah Cant, from Breakthrough, told BBC News.

“Checking your breasts isn’t complicated and there’s no need to follow a fancy routine.  Just be familiar with how they look and feel normally.”

The survey revealed that the women had widespread uncertainty about which signs to watch for during a breast self-examination, although 88% were aware that a lump could be a possible sign of the disease.

However, only 12% knew that skin texture changes, such as puckering or dimpling of the skin, are a potential warning sign for breast cancer.  And just 7% were aware that they should report a sudden nipple inversion to their doctor, while only 5% were aware that changes in the shape or size of a breast could be a sign of cancer.

In Britain, the emphasis is on breast “awareness”, rather than on performing more complex checks.  Experts say there is no evidence that monthly breast “self-examinations” reduce breast cancer deaths, and in fact may even lead to unnecessary biopsies.

Women are instead advised to learn what is normal for them, and to regularly check their breasts for any possible changes.  

Among the signs women should look for are:

  • Changes in the appearance or direction of nipple
  • A lump in the breast or armpit
  • Changes in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Changes in skin texture, such as puckering or dimpling
  • Discharge in one or both nipples
  • Rash or crusting of the nipple or surrounding area
  • A lumpy area or unusual thickening that doesn’t go away after your period
  • Breast pain unrelated to periods
     

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