“I don’t know what I’m feeling for”: Young women’s beliefs about breast cancer risk and experiences of breast awareness

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Background: Younger women are often diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Beliefs about risk are instrumental in motivating many health protective behaviours, but there may be confusion around which behaviour is appropriate to detect breast cancer earlier. Breast awareness, defined as an understanding of how the breasts look and feel so changes can be identified early, is widely recommended. In contrast, breast self-examination involves palpation using a specified method. We aimed to investigate young women’s beliefs about their risk and experiences of breast awareness.

Methods: Thirty-seven women aged 30-39 years residing in a North West region of England with no family or personal history of breast cancer participated in seven focus groups (n=29) and eight individual interviews. Data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Results: Three themes were generated. “Future me’s problem” describes why women perceive breast cancer as an older woman’s disease. Uncertainty regarding checking behaviours highlights how confusion about self-checking behaviour advice has resulted in women infrequently performing breast checks. Campaigns as a missed opportunity highlights the potential negative effects of current breast cancer fundraising campaigns and the perceived absence of educational campaigning about breast cancer for this demographic.

Conclusions: Young women expressed low perceived susceptibility to developing breast cancer in the near future. Women did not know what breast self-checking behaviours they should be performing and expressed a lack of confidence in how to perform a breast check appropriately due to limited knowledge about what to look and feel for. Consequently, women reported disengagement with breast awareness. Defining and clearly communicating the best strategy for breast awareness and establishing whether it is beneficial or not are essential next steps.
Original languageEnglish
Article number312
JournalBMC Women's Health
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2023


  • Breast cancer
  • Breast awareness
  • Breast self-examination
  • Risk perceptions
  • ast awareness Breast self-examination Risk perceptions Qualitative research


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