Doctors: Too Many Women Are Skipping Self Breast Exams

None of the women in survey can find lumps on breast model

An eye-opening experiment testing just how well women know how to do a breast self exam found most of the women failing, and doctors say those women aren't alone.

"I feel one. There's another one"

"I think I found two or three. This is really hard."

"I don't know where you guys are finding three."

Those are the reactions from women looking for lumps in a model of a breast.

"I think I felt two, but I don't do this regularly."

It's an exercise in self breast exams, and if it was a test, most of the women, volunteers from the National Organization for Women, would have failed.

That's because there are actually five lumps hidden in the model to mimic actual tumors. None of the 10 women surveyed were able to identify all five.

"I have to admit, I've never done my own breast exam," said one woman.

That's an admission made by at least half the women, mostly the younger ones.

That's a disturbing reality for many women, doctors say. They're either not doing monthly exams or don't know how to do them properly.

Sibley Hospital Breast Surgeon Dr. Collette Magnant said tumors in a number of her patients would have gone undiagnosed if they hadn't discovered them on their own.

"Especially younger patients who don't have yearly mammograms, who don't necessarily go to doctors on a regular basis because they're so healthy," she said.

It's also harder for doctors and electronic screenings to identify lumps in younger women because their breast tissue is more dense and that's why Magnant says it's important to be familiar with their breasts at a young age.

"If they get used to doing it when they're young, when they're not afraid, they're going to find breast cancer. Then as they get older and they are more prone to cancer, like in their 40s and 50s and on up, then they're going to be more comfortable with self breast exams and they're going to know what they're breasts feel like and they're going to able to find out," Magnant said.

Another common mistake is women not checking the entire area around the breast. In WRC's survey, all 10 women missed the lump that was at the top of the breast model.

"The breast goes all the way up into the clavicle," Magnant said. "It goes down almost into the belly. It goes all the way over into the side and it goes into the sternum or the breast bone. So they have to examine that whole area."

Click here to learn about the proper way to do a self breast exam.

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