A Third of Women Too Scared to Check for Breast Cancer

breast cancer
Image REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Fear may not be the best motivator after all. Right on time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a recent study reports that a third of women are too scared to conduct breast self-exams because of what they may find.

The survey, commissioned by cosmetics manufacturer Avon, polled 2,000 women. Experts say that women should perform self-exams every month from the age of 13. Cancer charities say that it is important for women to become familiar with the normal appearance and feel of their breasts so that they are quickly able to spot irregularities. Though only 1 in 2,000 women develop breast cancer before the age of 29, that number of women who develop breast cancer increases drastically with age. Nearly 1 in 22 women will have breast cancer before they turn 60 years old.

The recommendation for monthly self-exams, however, does not go without controversy. The Cochrane Institute performed previous research that found that overzealous self-examination can cause problems itself. It said that, in women who are not particularly at risk for the disease, self-exams can cause unnecessary anxiety. Most lumps found turn out not to be harmful.

Professor Janet Riebstein said, however, that it is important to set up these habits and routines while women are young. The Avon study said that 55 percent of women would be more likely to conduct self-exams if it was a regular part of their routine.

But, for a significant chunk of women, the issue with breast exams is more one of ignorance. A study from Breakthrough Breast Cancer found that only 2 percent of women can name five warning signs of breast cancer. And another survey found that, in 1,000 women polled, fewer than half of women check their breasts regularly. 57 percent of the women who did not perform self-exams said, simply, that they forgot.

Sarah Rawlings, the head of policy at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said that this should be a wake-up call for women everywhere. "One thousand women die every month from breast cancer," she said. "This is something that is just too important to forget."

For the proper procedure on how to conduct a breast self-exam, please click here.

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