Research indicates correct breast examination techniques are widely misunderstood

Research indicates correct breast examination techniques are widely misunderstood

Women are encouraged to perform breast self-examinations at least once a month, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. But many women, and even some medical professionals, might not know how to correctly perform the exam.

The Monona Terrace’s Well Expo Saturday featured an interactive UW Health booth dedicated to teaching women proper technique for breast examinations.

Dr. Carla Pugh, director of UW Health’s clinical simulation program, showcased custom-made silicone breast models of varying masses and densities equipped with 1,400 sensors to measure applied pressure. She used the models in her research to determine best practices for a breast exam and shared her insights at the expo.
After observing over 550 experienced physicians in her research, Pugh found a trend. Those who applied 10 Newtons of force into the breast model were able to detect a lesion with their hands, while those who applied less could not.

“That made us very curious in how folks are being trained,” Pugh said. “We were very interested in letting everyone know that this is a deficiency in our training of physicians.”

Video footage from the research experiment indicated that the type of hand motion utilized in a breast exam matters too. Pugh’s research classified three different types of finger movement from her observations – a rubbing technique, a vertical up-and-down motion and a piano fingers technique.

The results indicated that those who used the piano key technique were 50 percent more likely to miss a breast lesion.

“The simulator allowed you to know if you were applying exactly the right amount of pressure and just how to examine the entire breast area, because you had to kind of complete the cycle before you were done,” expo attendee Barbara Simpson said. “I guess I never had that kind of explicit training before. I never felt comfortable with breast examinations, and I never really did them, to be honest.”

Simpson said she appreciated the hands-on training as a kinesthetic learner. She had a breast self-examination instruction guide hanging in her shower, but “seeing it and doing it (are) just two different things,” she said.

“I think that sharing this throughout the nation is important,” she said. “To know breast cancer can be prevented if we stay on top of these self-examinations – it is just crucial.”

“If others had the opportunity to know exactly what it feels like, people would be more empowered; they would be more knowledgeable about what it takes,” Simpson said. “They would realize that it’s very doable; it’s not time-consuming; and they’re not just swinging in the dark.”