Breast self-examination in long-term breast cancer survivors

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For many breast cancer survivors, continued surveillance will be necessary to increase the possibility of finding a new diagnosis in an early stage. One such surveillance approach, breast self-examination, has not been studied specifically in breast cancer survivors. The current study was designed to assess the practice of BSE in a sample of long-term breast cancer survivors, and to examine the personal, emotional, cognitive, and health-care provider factors that may contribute to its performance.


Three hundred forty-five breast cancer survivors (34% response rate, 345/1,001) diagnosed with in situ-stage II breast cancer between 1997-2004 at a community hospital provided answers to a mailed, self-report questionnaire.


Seventy-six percent of respondents reported that they had performed a BSE in the last 30-days. Forty percent reported performing BSE once/month, 39% more than once/month, and 21% less than once/month since their diagnosis. Most of the women (90%) reported that a doctor or nurse told them to perform a BSE once/month since their diagnosis, although only 69% had actually been shown how to perform a BSE. Consistently, the perception of increased barriers to BSE performance was associated with performance of BSE less than once/month (OR = 1.4, 95% CI 1.2, 1.6; OR = 0.8, 95% CI 0.8, 0.9). In addition, depending on the model, age (OR = 1.1, 95% CI 1.0, 1.2), perceived effectiveness of cancer treatments (OR = 0.7, 95% CI 0.5, 0.9), and perceived benefits of BSE (OR = 0.8, 95% CI 0.7, 0.9) also was associated with differences in BSE performance.


The current study suggests that breast cancer survivors between 4 and 11 years from diagnosis practice BSE, although their perception of the barriers to conducting BSE influences the frequency of this behavior. Further examination is needed to understand why some survivors perceive greater barriers to BSE performance than others. Also needed is a prospective examination of BSE performance using behavioral measures in relation to self-report.

Implications for cancer survivors

Increased attention should be paid to this particular screening behavior performed by a majority of breast cancer survivors by both researchers and health-care providers alike. Whether survivors perform the behavior correctly and the impact it has on their emotional and cognitive well-being should be further explored.

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