Experts Debate Usefulness of Breast Self-Exams

July 17, 2008 04:29 PM
by Cara McDonough
Researchers say that the commonly recommended breast cancer screening tool may not save women’s lives, and may even do more harm than good.

30-Second Summary

The Cochrane Collaboration conducted trials in which almost 400,000 women were split up into two groups: one group was instructed to conduct breast exams regularly, while the other group was not.

Of the 587 study participants who died of breast cancer during the course of the study, 292 of them had regularly performed the breast exams and 295 had not, “a minuscule difference that suggests there is no benefit from self-checks,” Time magazine reports.

The report referenced in the Time article goes further by warning that breast exams may actually do harm, as they put women at risk for unnecessary treatment, such as biopsies.

Another recent study showed that other breast cancer detection methods, particularly M.R.I.s, may be prompting more women to have their entire breast removed, sometimes unnecessarily.

But some doctors say that early breast cancer detection in the form of self-exams helps save women’s lives.

“Recommending that women not perform breast self-examinations could seriously endanger women’s health and lead to later detection of cancers in some women,” says Dr. Marisa Weiss, founder and president of

American Cancer Society recommendation that women consider performing self-exams starting in their 20s—are unlikely to change. But while researchers and doctors argue over the new study, women are left with uncertain advice when it comes to self-screening.

“I guess it’s one less thing that I need to be doing, but it is a little confusing,” said 29-year-old Liz Lane to MSNBC. “Now I’m not sure what I am supposed to do to check myself.”

Headline Links: New study questions breast self-exams

Opinion & Analysis: New guidelines mean relief to some

Related Topic: M.R.I.s may lead to unnecessary mastectomies

Reference: Breast cancer information and prevention


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