Breast size dissatisfaction affects self-examination

Published: 4 January 2018 at 12:12

A woman checking her breast

Study shows women who are less happy with breast size are less likely to check

New research shows that women who are dissatisfied with the size of their breasts are less likely to carry out regular self-examinations to screen for breast cancer.

The findings also show that women with greater breast size dissatisfaction are less confident about detecting a change in their breasts and are more likely to delay seeing their doctor if they did detect a change.

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.

The majority of participants reported some degree of breast size dissatisfaction, with 31% wanting smaller breasts and 44% wanting larger breasts, while a third of the women (33%) in the study admitted they rarely or never engaged in breast self-examination.  

If they were to detect a change in their breasts, the majority of women (55%) said they would see their doctor immediately or as soon as possible.  However, one in 10 admitted they would either delay for as long as possible (8%) or not see their doctor at all (2%).

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Britain and the second most common cause of cancer death.  The NHS actively encourages breast awareness.  Their advice states that if women have a greater understanding of how their breasts look and feel normally, they are better able to detect any changes.

Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University and 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.”