Should women do breast self-exams? A family doctor’s view.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

One of my managing editor’s Twitter friends, “autismfamily,” asked a very relevant question after reading yesterday’s blog: With knowledge from recent publicized studies, should women still do breast self-exams?

A lot of physicians and organizations are hedging for now. A recent Cochrane Review advises no, citing two large studies that conclude it does not decrease death rates and does increase unnecessary surgeries since more non-cancerous lumps are found on self-exam. But here is their hedge: Cochrane recommends that “women, however, should be aware of any breast changes” and seek medical advice.

What better way than self-exams to be aware of changes? The new buzzwords are “breast awareness.” Most put more emphasis on getting regular mammograms and manual exams from health-care providers. Combining these is better than doing only one since neither is infallible. Also, see your health-care provider if you notice any skin changes or discharge, or feel any lumps in the shower or on casual exam.

So back to self breast-exams. Both of the studies Cochrane cited were in other countries. One did not have mammogram access readily available, which could have been used to rule out some of the noncancerous lesions. I know I am putting in my bias, but I am still not convinced that a good, regular self-exam will not add to detection, if combined with the health-care providers exams and mammograms. The Cochrane Review does not have my bias.

So, the answer? I am going to hedge. Talk this over with your health-care provider at your next visit. If you do the exam, do it correctly. You might want to take a look at a video on this. Also, here’s an ob-gyn’s opinion on the recommendations.

Thanks to Bonnie Sayers, BellaOnline’s Autism Spectrum Disorders editor, for asking the question that prompted this post.

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One Response to “Should women do breast self-exams? A family doctor’s view.”

  1. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Says:

    [...] Catching the disease early will significantly increase your risk of survival and cure.  How do you do this?  There has been some controversy, this year on performing self-breast exams.  [...]

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