05/01/2018 14:46 GMT | Updated 05/01/2018 14:46 GMT

Body Image Concerns Are Stopping Women Checking For Signs Of Breast Cancer

Here's how to get boob-confident 👇

Women have complicated relationships with our breasts, from worrying they’re too small, too big, too uneven or too saggy - and it’s affecting our health.

New research has found women who are dissatisfied with the appearance of their breasts are less confident about detecting a change that could be a sign of breast cancer.

What’s more, they’re more likely to delay seeing their doctor if they do detect a change in their breasts than women who feel body-confident.

As someone who dreads bikini season and actively avoids looking at their (almost non-existent) boobs in the mirror, I understand such hesitations. 

I’m ashamed to admit that I never check my breasts for potential signs of cancer, but this study has been a wake up call. 

We need to stop the aesthetic value we place on our breasts impacting how we value their worth. Making that internal shift could be life saving, so, how do you do it? 

Martin Novak via Getty Images

The study uncovered the majority of women are dissatisfied with the appearance of their breasts with 31% wanting smaller breasts, while 44% want bigger breasts.

Worryingly, a third of the women (33%) in the study admitted they rarely or never engaged in breast self-examination.

Figuring out why you’re unhappy with the size or shape of your breasts could be the first step in shifting your mindset. 

Professor Viren Swami, lead author of the study conducted by Anglia Ruskin University, believes our dissatisfaction with breast appearance “mainly comes from cultural pressure”.

“Women are expected to live up to certain appearance ideals, often that’s related to size with breasts,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“I think a lot of women feel they don’t live up to the perceived expectations.”

As well the media and porn putting women under pressure to look a certain way, Professor Swami says our peers and parents can play a role, by making unintentional hurtful comments. 

Often, we internalise messages we see in the media and then repeat them in conversation with others, not realising the impact they have,” he says.

Professor Swami believes improving body confidence about breasts could be key to improving self-check and early referral rates for breast cancer.

Although there is limited research on how women can feel better about their boobs, he recommends focussing on the function of breasts, rather than their appearance.

For example, if you stop to think about the ability of breasts to produce milk and keep a baby alive, you’ll feel more empowered to look after them. 

In the study Professor Swami also highlights how “promoting greater breast awareness may be a useful means of helping women view their breasts in more functional terms, rather than purely aesthetic terms”.

That includes knowing the signs of breast cancer to look out for and how to complete a self-examination. 

Breast Cancer Care’s ongoing initiative aims to highlight how the symptoms of breast cancer are “more than a lump”.

Other lesser known symptoms include:

:: A change in size or shape
:: A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling 
:: Redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
:: Liquid that comes from the nipple without squeezing
:: Your nipple has become pulled in or looks different,
:: A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone

Breast Cancer Care

Dr Tom Beattie, health information officer at Breast Cancer Now, explains there’s “no special technique” for checking your breasts and “you decide how often feels right – the main thing is you keep doing it”.

“It’s so important that we ensure all women are checking themselves regularly for the signs and symptoms of cancer, as the earlier breast cancer is found, the more likely treatment is to be successful,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“In most instances, any changes found are not cancerous, but it’s so important all women know the signs and symptoms to look out for, and to have anything unusual checked out.”

While more than half (55%) of women in the study said they would see their doctor immediately or as soon as possible if they noticed a change in their breasts, a concerning one in 10 admitted they would either delay for as long as possible (8%) or not see their doctor at all (2%).

But trustee at the charity Breast Cancer Haven, Professor Dudley Sinnett, implores women to visit their GP straight away if they feel or see a change.

“Try not to be put off making an appointment because of embarrassment or feeling uncomfortable,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“Your GP is a professional who is there to help you and will be able to give the right advise on next steps whatever they may be for you.”

He adds that the act of self-examination itself can “mean taking a first step towards overcoming negative feelings about your breasts”. 

“Becoming more familiar with your body and regularly checking your breasts is vital, no matter your age or if you are below the national NHS screening age, and particularly if you have a family history of breast cancer,” he says. 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Britain and the second most common cause of cancer death. We owe it to ourselves to make boobs a priority.