Guidelines Against Breast Self-Examination May Endanger Women’s Health
“New guidelines recommending that women not perform breast self-examinations (BSEs) could seriously endanger women’s health and lead to later detection of breast cancers in some women,” says Marisa Weiss, M.D., president and founder of Breastcancer.org and a leading breast cancer oncologist. “These guidelines do not reflect a new point of view, but they are still very bad advice.”
New Danish guidelines advising the population not to perform breast self-examinations are supported by a review – to be released later today – of breast self-examinations studies previously conducted in Russia and China. The review, co-authored by Dr. Peter Gotzsche, suggests that breast self-exams do not reduce deaths from cancer and “cannot be recommended.”
Early detection is crucial to quality of life
“Early detection of breast cancer is crucial not only to the ‘survivorship’ of a patient, but to her quality of life while treating the cancer, and thereafter. For many patients, early detection could mean not having to lose a breast through mastectomy or not having to experience aggressive chemotherapy,” says Dr. Weiss.
Report robs women of a key tool in their arsenal
“The world of early detection of breast cancer is imperfect – there is not one test that will detect all cancers early. This report robs women of one of the key tools in what is already a limited arsenal for detection of this terrible disease in the general population – mammography, a doctor’s examination, and a woman’s own breast self-exam. For the 20% of women whose cancers are only found by physical exam – not mammography – an individual woman’s self-examination may be her main opportunity for early detection with a potential survival benefit.
“It also sends the wrong message to women about their role in their own health care, especially today when so many women cannot afford expensive doctor visits and medical testing.”
While she acknowledges that there are clear limitations to what breast self-examinations can detect and at what stage, Dr. Weiss says, “There are also inherent limitations to the value and quality of mammograms and clinical breast examinations. What’s important is that women are encouraged to use all three tools to maximize the chance of early detection. The newly published data analysis was only able to look at the potential value of breast self-examination, but not at the power of its correlation with mammography, since many women in the studies had no access to mammography. Thus, it sheds no light on the modern medical setting, where cross-interpretation of multiple detection tools can lead to powerful correlations – and help us more precisely guide an individual woman’s care.
Flawed breast self-examination advice disempowers patients
“This kind of flawed advice truly disempowers women by suggesting that they need not take proactive steps in examining themselves for signs that something may be wrong. This is so important to me because at Breastcancer.org we’re all about empowering patients, and we explicitly recommend breast self-exams.”
Breastcancer.org is the #1 source of medical information and support, dedicated to providing more than 4,000 pages of medically vetted information on breast health and breast cancer. Breastcancer.org serves more than 8 million visitors each year.