Breast self examination increases women's concerns but has no effect on mortality

March 10, 2004

We are releasing this story before embargo because (1) the embargo has already been broken and (2) it is a sensitive subject that needs to be handled with care to avoid misunderstanding among women.

Hamburg, Germany: Breast self-examination (BSE) should not be seen as a cheaper alternative to mammography, and people who still advocate it as an effective way of reducing breast cancer mortality are doing women a disservice, a scientist will say at the 4th European Breast Cancer Conference next week (Tuesday 16 March). Professor Lars Holmberg, from the Regional Oncologic Centre, Uppsala, Sweden, will explain why BSE should not be promoted as something that can decrease mortality from breast cancer.

Professor Holmberg will comment on a study to be presented at the conference by Professor Vladimir Semiglazov, who conducted and analysed a randomised controlled trial of BSE in nearly 100,000 Russian women between 1985 and 2003. The women had been taught how to examine their breasts correctly, but even so there was no reduction in deaths from breast cancer in the BSE group. And not only did self-examination not affect mortality, it also meant that more women in the BSE group consulted doctors for benign breast lesions than those in the control group.

"Breast self-examination has been widely advocated in the belief that it is beneficial", says Professor Holmberg. "In fact we now know that it can be positively harmful. The women in the BSE group consulted more frequently for relatively harmless conditions, thus having more surgical biopsies, not to mention increased anxiety. While women should be aware of changes in their breasts, just as they should take note of any other unusual signs elsewhere in the body, it is worrying that BSE is still being touted as an alternative to mammographic screening."

"Many people are guilty of continuing to promote this practice", he says, "and I can only assume that it is through ignorance. Although it is very tempting for poorer countries to advocate BSE as a cheaper alternative to high tech screening, we now know that it simply does not help.

"Women need to be familiar with the normal feel, weight and appearance of their breasts, he saya, and any changes should be reported to a doctor as soon as possible. "But replacing normal breast awareness with a monthly ritual self-examination is not the answer. It is time that this ghost was laid to rest."
-end-


ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation

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