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Women's Health

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Anxiety Prevents Women From Performing Breast Self-Exams

WebMD Health News

Nov. 8, 2001 -- Scared of what they might find, many women are opting not to perform the potentially life-saving breast self-exam. The thought of finding a lump and being all alone when it happens is enough to keep some women -- even those believed to be at increased risk of breast cancer -- from performing the quick and simple test.

Breast cancer is the No. 2 cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. And it is the leading cause of cancer death among women aged 35 to 54. The most effective way to fight breast cancer is to detect it early. Along with mammography and regular doctor checkups, monthly breast self-exams should be part of a woman's overall screening strategy.

Although self-exams are relatively quick and easy to do, UCLA researchers have found that many women, even those who feel that they are at very high risk for developing breast cancer, are not performing them on a regular basis.

Anxiety is to blame, according to researchers Nangel M. Lindberg, PhD, and David Wellisch, PhD.

"Potentially finding disturbing information while alone sets off anxiety that makes this procedure too threatening. This is particularly true for those women that see themselves as more vulnerable to breast cancer," they explain in a written statement.

This finding is not something to take lightly, since research shows that women who perform regular breast self-exams find 90% of all breast tumors.

According to the researchers, education could go a long way to relieving some of this anxiety.

Ask your doctor to help you put your risk for breast cancer into perspective. This study, like others, found that many women greatly overestimated their risk of breast cancer, adding unnecessary worry and anxiety that makes self-breast exams that much more difficult.

Women's-health experts offer these tips for maintaining healthy breasts:

  • Start breast self-exams at age 20, examining your breasts once a month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends.
  • If you are no longer menstruating, do the exam on the same day of each month, such as the first day of the month or a date that is easy to remember.
  • Be sure to have your doctor examine your breasts every three years starting at age 20 and once a year starting at age 40.
  • Ask your doctor about a yearly mammogram starting at age 40. If you are at high-risk for breast cancer, such as having several young women in your family with breast cancer, you should ask your doctor if you need to begin mammograms at an earlier age.

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