Breast cancer self-examination? 64% believe it’s the best way, but it’s not – 01/10/2022

Breast cancer self-examination? 64% believe it’s the best way, but it’s not – 01/10/2022
Breast cancer self-examination? 64% believe it’s the best way, but it’s not – 01/10/2022

October begins and it also arrives, the Pink October, a worldwide awareness campaign about breast cancer, the most incident in the world and Brazilian female population, with the exception of cases of non-melanoma skin cancer, and also the type of tumor that kills the most women.

Although it has been more than a decade since the Ministry of Health and Inca (National Cancer Institute) stopped indicating breast self-examination as a screening method for this type of tumor, it is still common today to come across the recommendation that palpating the breasts and armpit region at a certain time of the month is important to detect a tumor early. But it is not.

A survey carried out by ipec (Intelligence in Research and Consulting) with 1,397 women, at the request of pharmaceutical Pfizer, and released this week, points out that 64% of women believe that the procedure would be the main means of diagnosing breast cancer in its early stage.

In most cases, when palpating the breasts it is very difficult to make an early diagnosis. That is: identify small lumps (about 1 cm) or that are still restricted to the mammary duct — the structure that carries milk during breastfeeding. With self-examination, the woman usually only finds tumors larger than 2 cm, which means that the cancer may already be at an advanced level.

Women from São Paulo (capital) and from the metropolitan regions of Belém, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro and the Federal District, aged 20 years or older, were interviewed.

In addition to the confusion surrounding the role of self-examination, most of the women interviewed also demonstrate that they are unaware of medical recommendations for performing mammography, which can detect tumors smaller than 1 cm.

For 54% of respondents, it is not clear the need to undergo the procedure if other exams, such as breast ultrasound, do not indicate changes: 38% believe that mammography should only be performed in case of suspicious findings in other tests, while 16% do not know how to say.

But 51% of the survey respondents are not aware of the importance of this regularity: 30% of the interviewees are convinced that, after a first examination with normal results, the woman would be free to carry out only the self-examination at home, while 21% of the sample affirms not knowing what the correct orientation would be.

The survey also points out that 33% of the women interviewed do not have adequate information about the relationship between age and breast cancer: 10% know nothing or prefer not to give an opinion on this matter, while 8% believe that those aged 40 or younger do not need to worry about the disease and 13% are convinced that women should start screening tests only when they enter menopause.

Risk factors

The research shows that the lack of knowledge about breast cancer among the women interviewed goes beyond the lack of information about the proper conduct for early detection. Most ignore the relationship between lifestyle and disease: 58% of women do not associate excess weight as a risk factor, while 74% do not identify the relationship with alcohol consumption.

On the other hand, genetic inheritance is the factor most mentioned by the interviewees when asked about the causes of breast cancer: 82% are convinced that the existence of other cases of the tumor in the family would be the main reason for the development of the disease. The medical literature, however, indicates that only 5% to 10% of all cases are associated with this element.

Survey participants are unaware, for example, of the relationship between behaviors associated with modern women and breast cancer: only 17% are aware that not having biological children increases the risk for the disease, and many ignore the protective effect of breastfeeding, such as this is the case for 55% of respondents from Porto Alegre and 54% of those from São Paulo.

Elements linked to the reproductive profile of women also make up the range of risk factors for breast cancer, such as late menopause (after age 55), but only 13% of respondents know this information. In addition, only 8% are aware that having their first period before age 12 also increases this risk.

Oh, the myths…

Some myths related to the topic are still present in the population studied: 8% of the women who responded to the survey attribute breast cancer to divine causes, claiming that the disease appeared because “it was in God’s plans”.

In addition, 6% of women believe that the tumor is related to the possibility that the woman “has not forgiven someone”, accumulating hurt.

Among younger women, some recurring fake news on the subject appears: in the range that covers respondents aged 20 to 29, for example, 47% are not convinced that the type of bra used does not impact the risk of having breast cancer : 11% believe that models with a bulge increase this risk and 36% do not know how to give an opinion on the matter.

Considering all age groups, both in Porto Alegre and Belém, only 59% of the interviewees are aware that the relationship with this item of clothing is false.


Survey data indicate that the pandemic scenario continues to impact women’s health care. When asked about the breast exams performed in the last 18 months, 48% of the participants answered that they did not perform procedures with medical follow-up: 21% resorted to self-examination and 27% did not undergo any evaluation during this period.

Only 34% of respondents claim to have had a mammogram in the last 18 months. Take advantage of the month of October, when a lot is said about women’s health, and go to the doctor to see how her health is doing.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Breast cancer selfexamination

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