Currently, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and has the second highest mortality rate after lung cancer. Over the years, the screening methods for breast cancer have been researched and debated. The most controversial secondary prevention method is the breast self-exam (BSE). Recommendations vary on BSE due the lack of data to either support or refute it's practice. It is hypothesized that the lack of conclusive data may be based on the lack of or quality of BSE performance by women. The objective of this study was to determine how many women perform BSEs, how they perform them and other variables that may affect BSE performance, including risk factors for breast cancer. The survey data was correlated to current data in hopes to provide insight and guidance to health care providers in counseling their female patients on BSE. this survey was completed by a convenience sampling of women age 20 and above at a family practice clinic. The main outcome measures were BSE performance in terms of frequency, method and BSE importance ratings. Results of this study showed that women practiced BSE more frequently than expected, but utilized poor methods and technique. Other results showed that women with a family history of breast cancer performed BSE more frequently, as did those who received a clinical breast exam (CBE) by their health care provider at their annual examination. Also, women with a history of breast cancer received CBEs more frequently from their health care provider than those women without this risk factor. No other factors significantly influenced the women's BSE performance or opinion of BSE importance. In conclusion, it is likely that the lack of data to support BSE teaching and practice is due not only to the lack of BSE performance, but the lack of quality BSE performance. If providers and women decide to practice BSE, education regarding methods and techniques is crucial in order to build a foundation for strong BSE research. Until then, providers should be aware that women with a family history of breast cancer and those who receive CBEs are more likely to perform BSEs, so they should pay particular attention to their BSE education. The role of BSE in breast cancer screening will continue to be uncertain until it is practiced consistently and correctly, which can be influenced by providers during CBE.
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