15% of Aussie Women Understand Breast Health

The first ever annual McGrath Breast Health Index, which measures levels of what is being termed ‘breastpertise’ among women in Australia, was released today. Breastpertise refers to four criteria comprising breast health understanding: awareness, confidence in recognising changes in the breast, knowledge of risk factors for breast cancer, and behaviour in terms of frequency of checking.

Published today in Getting a Grip: a report into breast health understanding among women in Australia, the McGrath Breast Health Index reveals that only 15 per cent of women in Australia meet all four criteria.

The most common criterion met was ‘awareness,’ with 73 per cent of Australian women believing themselves to be somewhat or very breast aware. Of the women who consider themselves breast aware, three in 10 do not recognise being a woman as a risk factor and four in 10 do not recognise growing older as a risk factor.

According to Petra Buchanan, CEO McGrath Foundation, the results of the McGrath Breast Health Index are both alarming, and hopeful. Alarming because the number of women who scored highly for all criteria is low, but hopeful because the research provides clear direction for future education.

‘Improving breast awareness among young people, particularly women, is a key part of the McGrath Foundation’s vision ‘ we like to say ‘if you grow them, know them!’ With the amount of information available about breast awareness, it’s easy to assume that women have a high, and accurate, understanding of their breast health,’ Ms Buchanan said.

‘However, the McGrath Breast Health Index of 2016 has revealed some alarming results ‘ women who consider themselves breast aware are more likely to identify non-risk factors as risk factors than those who don’t consider themselves breast aware.

‘This is concerning because it means that potentially there is a substantial number of women who believe they are breast aware, are confident in their ability to recognise changes, are checking their breasts for changes frequently ‘ but are armed with incorrect information about what actually causes breast cancer,’ she continued.

‘This research shows that ‘knowing’ your breasts is a lot more than simply being breast aware. We need to redefine breast awareness so that people also take into account the three other factors that make up what we’re calling breastpertise ‘ confidence, knowledge and behaviour ‘ and ‘get a grip’ on their breast health, by educating themselves, and having the right conversations, to build a new generation of breastperts,’ Ms Buchanan said.

Key research results

Of the four criteria comprising breastpertise:
73 per cent considered themselves to be very or somewhat breast aware
62 per cent were very or somewhat confident they would be able to detect a change in their breasts
52 per cent checked their breasts at least once a month for changes
39 per cent were knowledgeable about risk factors for developing breast cancer, including identifying incorrect risk factors as such.
Only one in 10 successfully identified the risk factors for breast cancer:
Being a woman
Growing older
Having a family history of breast cancer
Being a smoker
Drinking alcohol
Starting menstruation earlier or menopause later
‘ Among all age groups, women believe mothers are best placed to first raise the importance of breast awareness (49%) over any other group of people, including healthcare professionals (31%).

Despite this, only one quarter of Australian women have had a conversation with their mother about breast awareness. Women aged 61 years and over were less likely to have had a conversation with their mother about breast health (17%) compared with women in their teens now (aged 16-19), who are twice as likely to have a conversation with their mother (35%).

Women with daughters aged 10 years and older were almost twice as likely to have had a conversation with their own daughter about breast health if they’d had a similar conversation with their own mother (81% compared with 45%).
Women who had had conversations with their own mothers were significantly more likely to meet all four criteria (23%) compared to the general population (15%).
While having or knowing someone who had been diagnosed with breast cancer (personal experience) made little difference to meeting all four criteria (17% with personal experience, compared with 15% general population), women who did not know anyone with breast cancer were more likely to only meet one, or none of the criteria (36%) than the general population (28%).
While the research was conducted among women only, the McGrath Foundation provides education aimed at young women and men in Australia. While breast cancer predominantly affects women, with 15,934 women expected to be diagnosed in 2016 alone, approximately 150 men in Australia are also diagnosed each year.

Related articles