Monday, August 5, 2013

Touch your boobies. Or don't. It's up to you

This video ended up in my Facebook feed courtesy of 9gag:

Whilst it's admirable to help to try and combat breast cancer, I'm not sure if this video helps.

Firstly, whilst it's big on talking about regularly checking breasts, there's little info on what to do if you find a lump, and whilst it asks "Do you know the warning signs?" it doesn't actually tell you what those signs might be.

Also, the lyric "Touching is key to being lumpy free" isn't true, and could be potentially damaging. Regularly checking your breasts won't change your chances of getting lumps. Not smoking; eating a healthy balanced diet; watching alcohol in take; staying a healthy weight; getting plenty of exercise; and, if you are able to, breastfeeding will.* However, those that do check regularly may be a bit more blasé about these risk factors, as they feel a bit safer, because of risk compensation.

As for checking your breasts, it's become a popular mantra, but just how effective is it? The US National Cancer Institute instigated a trial to find out.

The study took more than a quarter of a million women and divided them into two groups. One group was taught how to examine their breasts, and then reminded to do so monthly, as well as being medically supervised for their examinations every six months. The other acted as a control group, and they were not taught, or reminded to examine their breasts. At the end if the study there had been similar amounts of breast cancer diagnosed in each group and similar numbers of deaths from breast cancer. It showed that teaching and encouraging breast self examination didn't stop women dying from breast cancer.**

In fact, those that were doing the self examinations actually had more biopsies (which have risks of their own) for benign, non cancerous lumps than the control group. So self examination actually did more harm than good.

We all (hopefully) wash, bathe, shower, dress and in so doing, notice our bodies. Some of us our lucky enough to have partners that notice our bodies too! We tend to notice when something is wrong or has changed (though a difference between men and women is that men tend to take longer to go and see a doctor if they have spotted something wrong).

If you do spot something wrong or unusual, go and see a doctor. But don't feel guilty if you're not purposefully checking yourself every month.

I should add that I'm a big supporter of Breast Cancer Campaign and have fundraised for them a fair bit. You can check out their stats on breast cancer, and whilst you're over there, why not donate too?

Because, seriously, fuck cancer.

*To be honest, this advice is just generally good for a whole host of things! What? You already knew that? Excellent! Do you actually follow that advice though?

**This paragraph is almost taken whole sale from the excellent The Patient Paradox by Dr Margaret McCarthy, who we've met a couple of times before on this blog.

Thomas DB, Gao DL. Randomized trial of breast self-examination in Shanghai: final results. J Natl Cancer Inst 2002; 94(19):1445-1457

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