Study: Breast self-exams do more harm than good

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Asian study questions breast self-exams as screening tool. Source: CBS News  

Breast self-examinations have no beneficial effects and lead to increased identification of benign lesions and an increased number of biopsies performed, according to data from two large trials published in the July issue of Cochrane Library.

Jan Peter Kösters and Peter C Gøtzsche from the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, examined two large population-based studies (388,535 women) from Russia and Shanghai, China, that compared breast self-examination with no intervention.

The researchers found that there was no statistically significant difference in breast cancer mortality between the groups (587 deaths in total). In Russia, more cancers were found in the breast self-examination group than in the control group, but in the Shanghai arm.

Almost twice as many biopsies (3,406) with benign results were performed in the screening groups compared to the control groups (1,856), according to the authors.

Based on their findings, Kösters and Gøtzsche concluded that screening by breast self-examination or physical examination cannot be recommended.

The American Cancer Society only recommends self-examination as an “option.”

However, the authors noted that women should “be aware of breast changes” and “seek medical advice if they detect any change.”