Breast self examination and breast cancer: Knowledge and practice among female medical students in a Kenyan university

Author Information

Kimani S.M., BSc (Hons), Fourth year medical student and Muthumbi E., Third year medical student, School of Medicine, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Corresponding author:

Kimani S.M., P.O. Box 30197-00100, Nairobi, Kenya, Email:


Background: Medical students play an important role in creating a supportive environment within their communities for screening behaviours in health promotion. Medical students must possess the appropriate knowledge concerning breast self examination (BSE) and breast cancer to be effective health educators.

Objective: To investigate the level of knowledge concerning BSE and breast cancer and to evaluate the practice of BSE among female medical students.

Materials and Methods: A cross sectional descriptive study conducted between March and June 2008 involving female students drawn from schools within the College of Health sciences, University of Nairobi. The questionnaires contained items on the biodata, knowledge and practice of BSE and knowledge on breast cancer. Responses on awareness on breast cancer were weighed using a 3-point Likert’s scale.

Results: A total of 169 respondents were interviewed. Majority (94.6%) had heard about BSE with 114 (69.9%) having ever practiced it. Less than 20% of the respondents performed BSE regularly. There were no significant differences between clinical and preclinical students. Mass media was the most common source of information (45.2%). Relatives and formal lectures formed the least (7%) source of information for the respondents. Significant inter-school differences on knowledge and practice are presented.

Conclusion: Despite being aware, a significant proportion of female medical students do not practice BSE. Information dissemination regarding breast health is underprovided among family members.

Recommendation: Programs targeting improved propagation of information and BSE especially among medical trainees should be instituted so as to strengthen health promotion in the community.

Key words: Breast self examination, breast cancer, female medical students


The Annals of African Surgery is the official publication of the Surgical Society of Kenya.


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