Six million women in the UK declare they don’t know how to check their breasts for cancer and a staggering 80% of women are unclear on what could increase their risk of breast cancer.
Amongst the proportion of women who know how to check for signs of breast cancer (77%), only 14% say they feel very confident in what they are doing.
The figures by Bupa Health Clinics are released to mark the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to demystify fact from fiction when it comes to breast health and help improve the confusion women have.
Amongst the findings, a quarter (24%) think stress increases the possibility of being diagnosed with breast cancer – however, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. In addition, over two million women believe wearing deodorant and over half a million believe wearing fake tan can play a part in the probability of being diagnosed with breast cancer. However, all of these beliefs are unfounded.
A third of women (32%) also falsely believe that turning 40 will increase the chances of developing breast cancer, but in reality, it’s those over the age of 50 that are more at risk.
Despite not being informed on all aspects of breast cancer, women are checking themselves, and doing so on average three times a month. Dr Petra Simic, Medical Director, Bupa Health Clinics, says that while there is no longer a consensus on how often women should self-examine, it is important that they are familiar with what their breasts look and feel like, so they can identify if something feels different or if there has been a change.
Dr Simic says: “There’s a lot of health information online, particularly around breast cancer, but some is contradictory advice which is fuelling women’s confusion. This means millions of women are avoiding important health checkups or not taking the right precautions - and in turn potentially missing crucial diagnoses and treatment.
“Being an ‘armchair expert’ can become really damaging to a woman’s health and wellbeing. With the majority of health concerns, especially breast cancer, the key is spotting and treating problems early. It’s important to have regular health assessments with a clinical expert, especially if you’re unsure on any area of your health.”
The six things that women falsely believe increases their chances of breast cancer are
- Being over 40 (32%)
- Using sunbeds and /or sunbathing often (32%)
- Stress (24%)
- Breast augmentation (13%)
- Wearing deodorant (9%)
- Wearing fake tan (3%)
Information overload smears health advice for women
The report by Bupa Health Clinics also found information overload is leading millions of women to believe health myths, which could potentially damage their health and wellbeing.
According to the report, as many as two million women believe that you only need to have a smear test if you’re sexually active – however in the UK, all women aged between 25 and 64 are recommended for cervical screening.
In addition, almost a quarter of women (23%) falsely believe an abnormal smear test indicates a high risk of cancer. However, in fact it often means there have been changes caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a group of viruses commonly spread during sex – though over three quarters (78%) of women in the UK were unable to identify that HPV is transmitted through sexual activity.
Other common myths include the menopause only occurring over the age of 50; that you can’t get pregnant nor should you exercise while on your period; and that cranberry juice cures urine infections.
The 10 most common myths falsely believed by women are
- HPV isn’t transmitted through sexual activity
- An abnormal smear test indicates a high risk of cancer
- Cranberry juice cures urine infections
- Smear tests are painful
- You should only have a smear test if you’re sexually active
- Having HPV means you have early signs of cervical cancer
- You can’t get pregnant while on your period
- Only women over 50 will experience the menopause
- Having a urine infection indicates poor hygiene
- Women with large breasts are more at risk of breast cancer than those with smaller breasts
As many as 60% of women admitted they found their health difficult to understand and of those, over a quarter (28%) said frequently changing advice and conflicting information from friends is the cause.
So big is the problem, four million women are avoiding the doctor because they are so embarrassed by their lack of knowledge about female health.
Dr Petra Simic Medical Director at Bupa Health Clinics, continues: “Whether they feel embarrassed, scared or think they don’t have the time – it’s important that women don’t avoid medical appointments if they have concerns.
“Women who feel confused and unsure about their health should consider a female health assessment, designed specifically to address female health concerns. This offers women the opportunity to have dedicated time to discuss and clarify any confusion, and to receive the correct guidance and individually-tailored advice from the experts.”
To help women separate fact from fiction, Bupa Health Clinics will host a Female Health Facebook Live Q&A event on 19 October 2018 with Bupa GP Dr Samantha Wild, who will be answering questions specifically about female health. For more information and to submit your question for the Facebook Q&A, visit the Bupa Health Clinics Facebook page.