Should women do a breast self-exam each month?

Written by yvonnethornton on October 9th, 2009

Most women know that mammograms save lives. A news story this week reported that three-quarters of breast cancer deaths occur among those women who did not get regular mammograms.

So, getting a mammogram is a no-brainer. It should be part of your annual exam if you’re over 50; women between 40 and 50 should get mammograms every 1-2 years. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, you should start mammograms at age 35.

But what about breast self-exams?

Finding no evidence that breast self-examination saved lives, and “increased physician visits and higher rates of benign breast biopsies,” as a result of self-exams, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recently recommended excluding routine self-examination from breast cancer screening.

So what do you do now? Does this mean that you can forget all those reminders your ob-gyn or family practice doc give you at each visit to check your breasts monthly?

In my view, no. Although cancer is much more likely to be discovered via mammogram, one of my patients did discover a cancerous lump through a routine self-examination. Even if she hadn’t, I’d still say, do the self-exam. However, don’t get excited and frightened because you “feel something.” Most “lumps” are totally benign (such as a fibroadenoma) or it just might be fibrocystic breast disease, which is benign and not cancerous. However, in any case, you need to be further evaluated by an experienced clinician.

Just remember, it has to be you examining your own breasts, not your boyfriend, not your husband. Because that way, you’ll get to know your own breasts and you’ll recognize if there’s some change.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Crasty says:

    Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

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