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Women unhappy with size of their breasts less likely to carry out self-examination, finds Anglia Ruskin University study


By Paul Brackley


Self-examination is important in the early detection of breast cancer
Self-examination is important in the early detection of breast cancer

Three quarters disatisfied with their size to some degree - and a third admit they rarely self-examine

Women who are unhappy with the size of their breasts are less likely to carry out regular self-examination.

The study found these women were also less confident about detecting a change in their breasts and more likely to delay seeing their doctor if they did detect something.

Breast awareness and self-examinations are actively encouraged by the NHS to help combat breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women in Britain and the second most common cause of cancer death.

The NHS says if women have a greater understanding of how their breasts look and feel normally, they are better able to detect any changes.

The study of 384 British women, published in the journal Body Image, was carried out by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University and Professor Adrian Furnham of University College London.

Three quarters of the participants were dissatisfied to some degree with the size of their breasts, with 31 per cent wanting smaller breasts and 44 per cent wanting larger breasts. A third (33 per cent) admitted they rarely or never engaged in breast self-examination.

Just over half (55 per cent) said they would see their doctor immediately or as soon as possible if they detected a change. But some admitted they would either delay for as long as possible (eight per cent) or not see their doctor at all (two per cent).

Prof Swami, lead author of the study, said: “Our findings suggest that greater breast size dissatisfaction is significantly associated with less frequent breast self-examination, lower confidence in detecting breast change, and greater delay in seeing a doctor following breast change.

“For women who are dissatisfied with their breast size, having to inspect their breasts may be experienced as a threat to their body image and so they may engage in avoidance behaviours.

“Breast size dissatisfaction may also activate negative self-conscious emotions, such as shame and embarrassment, that results in avoiding breast self-examination.

“Promoting greater breast size satisfaction may be a means of empowering women to incorporate breast self-examinations and breast awareness into their health practice.

“And promoting greater breast awareness may be a useful means of helping women view their breasts in more functional terms, rather than purely aesthetic terms.

“It is also important for healthcare practitioners to be mindful of the impact that dissatisfaction with one’s breasts may have on self-examination behaviours and outcomes.”

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