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Why women avoid breast self-checks

In the final week of Breast Cancer Awareness month, new research indicates the need for more thorough and regular self-checks has never been more important. Here’s why Aussie women are avoiding the lifesaving practice.

The prospect of being diagnosed with any type or stage of cancer is a terrifying prospect for any individual, regardless of age, gender or access to treatment options. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 7 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, with 1 in 500 men joining the statistics. 

The high diagnosis numbers, while harrowing, reflect the substantial improvements to screening methods, and an overall increase in awareness amongst women at risk. And though we are privileged to live in a decade and country with exceptional access to medical detection and treatments, regular self-checks remain an important weapon in the ongoing fight against breast cancer. 

Pink Hope, a hereditary cancer charity dedicated to spreading awareness about breast cancer amongst Australian women, has published the results of a recent survey, with the statistics painting a grave picture of our nation’s preventative health knowledge.

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Too self-conscious to self-check

The study has revealed one of the biggest barriers preventing women from conducting regular self-checks at home is low body confidence. Surveying a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 Australian women aged 18 years and older, the statistics show an alarming number of participants fail to check their bodies in line with the recommended frequency due to feeling triggered by feelings of insecurity. 

“I know it can be hard to stand in front of the mirror and conduct a self-check, especially if you don’t love the reflection staring back at you, but what I can tell you, as a woman diagnosed with breast cancer at 29, is that there is great empowerment in learning to self-check and feeling confident that you know your body and are taking control of your health,” shares Sarah Powell, CEO of Pink Hope.

One in four Gen Z women cited low body confidence as the main barrier, indicating the issue may be tied to generational trends. Of the women who reported moderate to strong body confidence, only 65 per cent claimed to regularly self-check, suggesting low confidence is not the only barrier contributing to these numbers. 52 per cent of the total women surveyed reported forgetfulness as the most common reason for forgetting to check their bodies for signs of cancer.

“Adult women of all ages should be performing breast self-checks at least once every six weeks as a proactive measure,” says Powell. “It’s one of the most powerful, and accessible ways to ensure early detection of breast cancer. 

The signs and symptoms to look out for

Reinforced by numerous popular culture references, most people have been acutely trained to interpret a mysteriously appearing lump as cause for concern. However, as the research indicates, many women are not so aware of the other telltale symptoms and signs of breast cancer, such as swelling, a rash, or nipple inversion. 

Only one in three women reported feeling moderately confident in knowing what symptoms to look out for during a self-check, with 91 per cent recognising a lump to be a telling sign. “A staggering 44 per cent didn’t know that nipple inversion was a sign to look for, while 43 per cent didn’t know that a rash could be a symptom,” explains Powell.

Furthermore, the research revealed many women’s low body confidence extends to their decision to seek medical advice, causing many to delay visiting their doctor for as long as a month after discovering something suspicious. 

“Waiting as long as a month to seek medical attention after discovering something concerning could have huge implications on the stage of diagnosis and treatment options available. And, while often it may well be nothing to worry about, it’s important to seek medical advice quickly to ensure the best possible outcome,” Powell explains.

At the close of ​​Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s more important than ever to take ownership of your health. Any noticeable change should be reported to your GP, who can provide professional advice and a more reliable diagnosis. 

For a helping hand, sign up for Pink Hope’s automated self-check reminder, taking the pressure off remembering for yourself. The reminder also provides tips to ensure a thorough self-examination, including what signs and symptoms to look out for. Sign up for the reminder here.

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