Tonight and tomorrow, WJLA will air a four-part series on breast exams called “Touch of Life: The Guide to Breast Self Examination.” The series will show real women performing breast exams—-and it’s not going to blur out their boobs.

The Washington Post notes that the full-frontal treatment is a departure of traditional television coverage of breast cancer screenings which feature “female breasts typically depicted only in X-rays or tastefully draped.” Which raises the question—-how do you tastefully drape a boob? And what’s the point of filming a breast self-exam if you can’t see how to examine the breast? WJLA is attempting to resolve the second question: General manager Bill Lord told the Post that “the station consulted medical experts who said news reports on breast-cancer detection haven’t offered enough detail to teach people how to do an exam properly.”

But some are wondering if the station is really showing the breasts in order to save lives, or rather save their ratings—-by showing boobs! On the teevee! Skeptics have pointed out that (a) it’s sweeps week, and (b) the network sent out a press release announcing, in “bold, underlined type,” that “This unique television event will include a clinical demonstration of a breast self-exam without obscuring any of the breast area.”

The station won’t catch any of the FCC’s indecency flack for the program, as news reports are exempt from the rules. Lord says he’s hoping to quell the inevitable viewer outrage by prefacing the series with a “viewer discretion” warning. Any viewers who might object to WJLA’s breast display should probably reserve their criticisms until they hear the story of 28-year-old Lauren Albright, one of the women who agreed to have her exam filmed by the station. In the Post:

The station’s first report features a 28-year-old woman from Northern Virginia, Lauren Albright, who volunteered to be led through an on-camera self-exam by an oncologist. She is shown examining her bare torso in a mirror and on an examination table, in both close-up and medium shots. Reporter Gail Pennybacker says in a voice-over that Albright took the “extraordinary step of baring herself” to teach women how to do the exam.

Albright, a nurse who lives in Alexandria, said it was “empowering” to tell her story on camera. “I’m not looking to change the world,” she said, “but if one person benefits, I’m happy.” Albright said a breast self-exam helped her catch her cancer early. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy after the TV report was filmed in early October, and now faces four months of chemotherapy. She says her prognosis is good.

Photo by euthman, Creative Commons Attribution License.