Breast Self Exam

Last Modified: January 4, 2010

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Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Why do the guidelines now say don’t do breast self-exam? My sister had breast cancer and found it by doing self-exam and best of all it doesn’t cost a thing! Self exams can save women’s lives- right? "Stress" is a reason not to?


Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Nurse Educator, responds:

Unfortunately, the self-exam issue has been misrepresented in the media. The USPTF guidelines do not say to not perform breast self-exam, they actually say that practitioners should not teach BSE (breast self exam).   The reason they say this is that studies found that women who were taught BSE were no better at finding abnormalities than those who weren’t taught. In addition, a several studies found no benefit in survival for the group receiving instruction versus the un-taught group. Studies have also found that women who were taught BSE had more false positives (required a biopsy that did not find any cancer).

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Women’s Health in the News. View the entire transcript here.

BCS: Mammography, Self Examination Benefit Under-50s

Sep 8, 2011 - Annual mammography and self-breast exams should be used for detecting breast cancer, even for women younger than 50 years, for whom routine mammography and teaching self-breast exams was not recommended by the 2009 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, according to a study presented at the 2011 Breast Cancer Symposium, held from Sept. 8 to 10 in San Francisco.

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