Abu Dhabi, UAE: Too few women know about breast cancer and the importance of screening and self-examinations, a study suggests.
Almost half do not routinely carry out a self-examination. Many women have never been taught how to check for lumps, and others avoid checking their breasts for fear of what they might find.
The survey found that only 5 per cent of women had a good general knowledge about breast cancer, the second-biggest killer of women after cardiovascular disease, and the most common cancer among women.
“The study suggests that breast cancer knowledge among the target group is inadequate,” reported the study.
It surveyed 247 women over the age of 40, of whom 120 did not regularly perform a self-examination. Of those, about a third had not even heard of a breast self-examination.
Almost 28 per cent expressed a willingness to perform a self-examination, if advised of proper procedures. However, 38 per cent claimed good knowledge of self- examination procedures but did not perform them because of a fear of finding something.
There are four stages of breast cancer, which are defined by the prevalence and size of lymph nodes and tumours in the breast.
If the cancer is detected in stage one, the chance of survival is between 95 and 100 per cent. Therefore early detection is essential in saving lives.
From the age of 20, women are encouraged to carry out self-examinations every month, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“Self breast exams aid a woman to become familiar with her breasts while noticing changes in texture or presence of a lump,” said Shahinal Dean, nurse manager of obstetrics and gynaecology at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. “These exams help report any observed changes to the physician.”
“Self breast checks are not designed for you to diagnose anything, they are prescribed to know what is normal for you. When you recognise what is normal, you will detect changes easily,” said Ms Dean.
Breast tissue feels slightly firm and nodular-like on the outside, while the inner and lower parts of the breast feel soft. If you feel squishy or soft lumps, these are more likely to be cysts or a fibroadenoma. Cancerous lumps are irregularly shaped with a gritty surface like a golf ball. Malignant tumours will also be difficult to move, Ms Dean said.
Of the participants in the study, 22 per cent said that they were unsure if breast cancer was contagious, while 38 per cent wrongly believed that only women got breast cancer.
About a quarter, 26 per cent, incorrectly believed that breastfeeding offered protection against breast cancer.
The study also found that only 43 per cent knew that breast cancer was the most common type of cancer in women.
Women in their 20s and 30s should have a physical exam with a doctor every three years, while women over 40 should have an annual mammogram.
Despite screening services being widely available under health insurance in the UAE, with many facilities offering free checks, many women do not get checked, the study found.
The study’s authors – Yusra Elobaid, Tar Ching Aw, Michal Grivna and Nico Nagelkerk of the Institute of Public Health at UAE University’s’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences in Al Ain – concluded more needed to be done to raise awareness of the importance of breast cancer screening.
“One of the major barriers to screening is the lack of knowledge about the benefits of early detection. Common barriers to screening included fear of pain and embarrassment, fear of radiation causing cancer, and perceived inadequate facilities.
“There is an urgent need for coordinated awareness campaigns organised by the local health authority and healthcare providers.”
The study, Breast Cancer Screening Awareness, Knowledge, and Practice among Arab Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Cross-Sectional Survey, was published last month in PLOS ONE, a scientific journal.
© The NationalOct 2014