Being breast aware could help you to detect cancer early, yet a third of mothers have not spoken to their daughters about it despite 40% of mothers stating they feel they are best place to speak to them about it.

Health on Female First

Health on Female First

Avon’s Breast Promise - The Next Generation study, commissioned in partnership with breast cancer expert and leading psychologist, Professor Janet Reibstein, set out to uncover how mothers can positively influence their daughters’ understanding and adoption of positive breast checking habits as part of their normal routines.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with around 135 women diagnosed every day.  With one in three women in the UK not checking their breasts, forming a habit of checking at a younger age could increase breast awareness across a lifetime and improve the rate of early detection.

Eluned Hughes, Head of Public Health at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “The importance of being breast aware has never been greater: breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and most cases are picked up by women themselves. We know early detection is key as the earlier breast cancer is found the better the chance of beating it, so we encourage all women to know their breasts and be aware of any changes, and if you do spot anything unusual go and check with your doctor.”

The research revealed there is a willingness among both mothers and daughters to communicate more about breast awareness, however over half of mothers who stated they had not had a conversation about breast awareness with their daughters chose not to because of fear or lack of knowledge.

Additionally, over 80 per cent of mothers surveyed had never spoken with their own mothers about breast awareness indicating there are generational differences in initiating conversations with daughters. This could be a real barrier to mothers having these conversations with their own daughters.

Thirty-three per cent of mothers questioned, stated they lacked the correct knowledge or confidence to openly discuss breast awareness issues with their daughters and to guide them on how to check their breasts. In a recent YouGov surveycommissioned by Avon’s charity partner Breakthrough Breast Cancer, only nine per cent of the women who reported they check their breasts for signs of breast cancer stated that they felt ‘very confident’ they would be able to notice a change in their breasts.

Professor Janet Reibstein, who has continued her work for Avon following last year’s seminal Avon Breast Promise Report 2012, analysed this year’s research.  She says:  “The research provides a very clear indication that both mums and their daughters wish to discuss breast awareness issues, including how to breast check. Most mothers see it as their duty to broach the subject with their daughters and to talk openly about it. While a significant proportion of the younger women in the focus groups related to their breasts purely in aesthetics, to their credit, they showed they are breast aware. They also indicated they are willing to and do take awareness campaigns seriously. However misinformation exists and they don’t feel they can speak openly with their mothers about it. Our research found that mothers don’t feel they have the correct information and thus a vicious cycle of silence ensues between both groups.”

For those who checked their breasts less than once a month, the most common reason cited was that they forgot (54 per cent). Whilst just under a quarter reported to have never thought about checking their breasts and nine per cent reported that they did not believe themselves to be at risk of cancer.

Interestingly, during the Avon focus groups, the majority of participants appeared to consider themselves at low or no risk of developing breast cancer, as they believe genetics to be the main reason that women develop breast cancer. Some of these women felt that in the absence of a genetic fault they didn’t need to check their breasts. However, only around 1 in 20, or five per cent, of breast cancer cases each year are due to known genetic faults, a figure that was surprising to participants.

Within the focus groups, daughters spoke openly that their main concern was about the aesthetics of their breasts and viewed them as objects to attract the opposite sex, rather than a body part they need to look after.

Further statistics from Avon’s research revealed that the media is seen as a dominant force in health and wellbeing. 53 per cent of mothers felt that more exposure via media outlets would promote positive awareness and help clarify mixed messaging about the relevance of breast checking.

Andrea Slater, Avon UK’s general manager, says: “As one of the biggest corporate supporters of the breast cancer cause, Avon wanted to build on last year’s research and investigate how important the mother daughter relationship could be in helping to encourage healthy breast checking behaviour in future generations.  By providing mothers with the right tools and information to pass on this important habit to their daughters, we believe it could have a significant impact on the early detection of breast cancer.”

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) the research results will be presented to breast cancer charities and the Department of Health in October, 2013. It will highlight how a mother as the primary informer in shaping her daughter’s awareness of breast health could impact on the early detection of breast cancer.

In response to the research, Avon UK has devised a downloadable educational guide, with the support of Breakthrough, for mothers to use to talk to their daughters about how to form healthy breast habits. 

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