Washington, July 16 : A new review challenges the effectiveness of breast self-exams, claiming that there is no evidence that would prove that it actually reduces breast cancer deaths.
In fact, the researchers have suggested that the practice may be doing more harm than good, since it led to almost twice as many biopsies that turned up no cancer in women who performed the self-exams, compared to women who did not do the exams.
"At present, screening by breast self-examination or physical examination [by a trained health worker] cannot be recommended," said Jan Peter Kosters, Ph.D., and Peter Gotzsche, Ph.D., of the Nordic Cochrane Centre,
The authors said that if women still want to continue with breast self-exams they should always "seek medical advice if they detect any change in their breasts that might be breast cancer," said Kosters.
"We suggest that the lack of supporting evidence...should be discussed with these women to enable them to make an informed decision," he added.
In the review of two large studies of 388,535 women in Russia and China, the team found that women who used self-breast exams had 3,406 biopsies, compared with 1,856 biopsies in the group that did not do the exams.
At the same time, there was no significant difference in breast cancer deaths between the two groups.
Carolyn Runowicz, director of The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the University of Connecticut Health Centre, encourages women to do the self-exams if they are comfortable with them, insisting that 50 percent to 60 percent of women detect their own breast masses.
"I think what we are seeing is that women are familiar with their breast through breast self-exam and when there is a lump, they notice the difference," she said.
The new review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration.