Breast cancer awareness shouldn’t just be for the month of October; it should be on the minds of women every month. Many women faithfully perform breast self-exams on a monthly basis because they believe these exams can detect breast cancer early. Other women don’t develop the habit of performing self-examinations, whether it’s because they feel uncomfortable doing so, they don’t trust themselves to do the exam right, or they think the exams are useless. Which side is correct?
We all know that breast cancer is an awful disease and according to the Canadian Cancer Society, it kills an average of 102 women every week. The John Hopkins Medical center reports that 40% of diagnosed breast cancers and 70% of breast deformities are discovered through breast-self exams. That being said, there has been debate over the value of breast self-examinations among health professionals. Some say self-exams are a beneficial tool that help women stay alert to changes in their breasts; others say they are unhelpful, especially when it comes to decreasing mortality rates. Studies evaluating the impact of breast self-examinations on the early detection of breast cancer and survival rates show that self-examinations aren’t as helpful as other screening tests, such as mammograms or clinical breast exams.
A 2008 study of 388, 535 women in China and Russia found that breast self-examinations do not help decrease breast cancer mortality rates and may actually be harmful, as false positive results have caused anxious women to undergo pointless biopsies. Using a meta-analysis, the study compiled results from randomized controlled trials from China and Russia on breast self-exams. There were no differences found in the breast cancer mortality rates between women who performed regular breast self-examinations and women who didn’t.
Despite the doubts surrounding breast self-exams, many health experts and organizations continue to encourage women to regularly check their breasts. While other screening tests are more effective in detecting cancer, breast self-examinations are vital in helping women to get to know how their breasts look and feel normally and tell the difference between a worrying change and the common changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy, or aging.
Breast self-exams are especially important for younger women, as they are less likely to get mammograms due to health insurance coverage reasons. The American Cancer Society also strongly encourages women who consume large amounts of alcohol, are obese, or have a family history of breast cancer to perform breast self-examinations on a monthly basis, as these women are at a increased risk of developing the disease.
Although studies have suggested that breast self-exams do more harm than good, combined with other reliable screening tests, self-exams can act as a woman’s first line of defense against breast cancer and help her be aware to any warning signs. Ladies (and gentlemen), don’t forsake your monthly breast self-examinations. Get to know your breasts and observe them for changes; doing so could save your life.
Never done a breast self-exam before? Check out the video below!
– Maria Bui
Kösters, J. P., and P. C. Gøtzsche. 2003. Regular Self-Examination Or Clinical Examination for Early Detection of Breast Cancer. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. (2): CD003373.