Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer among
American women. Cases are relatively rare before age 40, but
risk increases with age. Currently, many women perform self-examinations
for early detection of cancer, a method that has been encouraged
for years. Evidence suggests that while many tumors are self-detected,
most are found accidentally (while bathing, etc.) - not during
A review published in the June 26, 2001 issue of the Canadian
Medical Association Journal evaluated the effectiveness
of self-exams in screening for breast cancer in a group of
40- to 69-year-old Canadian women. The review utilized seven
breast cancer studies from different nations, including the
U.S., to evaluate the effectiveness of self-exams in preventing
death and providing early detection.
This research showed no evidence of the benefit from regular
self-examinations. Neither regular performance nor education
on the proper technique for self-examinations reduced the
likelihood of breast cancer mortality or provided earlier
detection. On the other hand, the studies showed the potential
harm of self-exams, in the form of excessive visits to physicians
for benign (safe) breast lesions and excessive rates of unnecessary
biopsies (removal of breast tissue for analysis).
Don't depend on a home exam alone to warn you of developing
breast cancer. Until more research is done on the effects
of self-exams, though, you should continue to perform them
as recommended by your physician. Also, report any changes
you notice in the surrounding tissue and bring up any concerns
you have about the condition. When it comes to beating breast
cancer, early detection is vital.
Baxter N. Preventive health
care, 2001 update: Should women be routinely taught breast
self-examination to screen for breast cancer? Canadian
Medical Association Journal, June 26, 2001: 164(13), pp.
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