Experts warn against breast self-exams


Washington : Examining one’s breast for symptoms of cancer may not be advisable as it has led to twice as many biopsies with negative results in women.

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In two large studies of 388,535 women in Russia and China, women who used self-breast exams had 3,406 biopsies, compared with 1,856 biopsies in the group that did not do the exams.

There was no significant difference in breast cancer deaths between the two groups.

“At present, screening by breast self-examination or physical examination cannot be recommended,” cautioned Jan Peter and Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, who reviewed the two studies.

However, the authors recognised that some women would want to continue with breast self-exams but said they should always “seek medical advice if they detect any change in their breasts that might be breast cancer”.

Carolyn Runowicz, director of The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center, encourages women to do the self-exams if they are comfortable with them, noting that 50-60 percent of women detect their own breast masses.

“I think what we are seeing is that women are familiar with their breast through breast self-exam and when there is a lump, they notice the difference,” she said.

The new review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation that evaluates medical research.