POSTED 5th February 2018

Breast surgery and breast self-examination

We were interested to read about a recent study showing that women who are unhappy with their breast size are less likely to carry out regular self-examinations. In light of the fact that breast surgery is one of the most popular treatments we carry out, we were keen to pass the message on to raise awareness of this important issue.

We cannot emphasise strongly enough how important it is to check your breasts regularly for any changes as lumps, discharge, dimpling and texture change can indicate cancer. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK with more than 55,000 women diagnosed each year. Early diagnosis is key.

The research was published in the Body Image journal and involved 384 women, most of whom were dissatisfied with their breasts – 31% wanted smaller breasts, 44% wanted larger. It showed that women found checking their breasts ‘may trigger negative emotions, such as shame and embarrassment’. A third of women in the study admitted they rarely or never engage in breast self-examination. Worryingly, one in 10 said that if they thought there was a problem they would delay for as long as possible or not see their doctor at all.

Professor Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, was the lead author of the study and 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.”

Professor Swami called for a promotion of greater breast awareness to help women view their breasts in more functional terms, rather than purely aesthetic terms, and called upon healthcare practitioners to be mindful of the impact that dissatisfaction may have on self-examination behaviours and outcomes.

Find out how to check your breasts

Take a look at the NHS pages which explain how to check your breasts. You may also find it useful to read Cancer Research UK’s breast cancer symptoms pages.