Mixed Messages on Breast Self Exam
By Rachel Walden — July 29, 2008
In case you missed it, recent headlines suggested that women can skip self-examination of their breasts, as a new Cochrane review suggested that the exams may not improve survival. The authors looked at two large studies (conducted in Russia and Shanghai) that compared mortality between women who did and did not regularly perform the exams. They did not find any differences in mortality, but found that women who performed self-examinations underwent more biopsies than those who did not.
An article in Star-Tribune notes that some organizations have backed away from recommending monthly self-exams. Despite concluding that “screening by breast self-examination or physical examination cannot be recommended,” the Cochrane review authors note that “Women should, however, be aware of any breast changes..” and should “be encouraged to seek medical advice if they detect any change in their breasts that may be breast cancer.” It is not clear how women are to be aware of any breast changes without doing self-exams. Another potential limitation of the review is the limited information on how the conclusion might apply to other populations, such as women in the U.S.
As OBOS has previously noted, “BSE, while not ‘proven’ to save lives…is the one detection method that women have control over with their own two hands.” For further discussion, see Breast Cancer Action’s Policy on Breast Cancer Screening and “Early Detection.”
The Canadian Cancer Society has stopped recommending BSE as an early detection method as a result of the Cochrane review. This deeply concerns and disturbs me.