Breast dissatisfaction linked to fewer self-examinations

Women who exhibit dissatisfaction with their breasts are less likely to perform breast self-examination (BSE), according to a new study published in Body Image.

“A wide range of individual difference factors have been associated with BSE frequency, but little research has focused on the role of body image,” wrote authors Viren Swami, PhD, with Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Adrian Furnham, PhD, with University College London. “This is surprising given that BSE requires physical examination and awareness of one’s own body and should, therefore, be a prima facie candidate for shaping BSE engagement. That is, to the extent that BSE represents a threat to body image, women with more negative body image may avoid performing BSE to reduce that threat.”

Researchers studied more than 350 women and found that around 75 percent of them wanted either larger or smaller breasts than they currently had.

Evaluation of the study cohort revealed that 33 percent of women rarely or never engaged in BSE. Meanwhile, 21 percent engaged in BSE at least once every six months, 25 percent engaged at least once a month and almost 21 percent engaged once a week.

“For women who are dissatisfied with their breast size, having to visually and manually inspect their breasts may be experienced as a threat to body image,” the authors wrote. “As a means of coping with such threat to one’s body image, some women may engage in avoidance behaviors that reduce the likelihood of practicing BSE.”

More than half of the participants said they would see their physician immediately or as soon as possible if they detected a change in their breasts. Almost eight percent said they would delay seeing their physician for as long as possible; two percent would not see their doctor at all.

“Broadly speaking, this result is consistent with a growing body of evidence suggests that some individuals cope with uncomfortable body-related situations involving others through avoidance and disengagement,” the authors wrote. “That is, women who experience breast size dissatisfaction may be more likely to delay seeing a doctor following detection of breast change because it involves exposing one’s physical and emotional self to others.”