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Breast Self-Exams: No Survival Benefit

Review Shows No Breast Cancer Survival Benefit in Women Who Do Regular Breast Self-Exams

Do Breast Self-Exams or Not? continued...

"Certainly, if any woman wants to do breast self-exam, then her doctor should give her assistance and make sure that her technique is what it should be, and also let her know what the limitations are so that she's not expecting that this is going to have big impact on her if she gets breast cancer," Saslow says.

Susan Love, MD, president and medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, calls the review a "wake-up call to say, 'You know what? We've been relying on things that don't work that well and we really have to start demanding something that works better.'"

Breast Awareness Is Key

The review doesn't support breast-self-exams. But it does urge women to be aware of -- and seek prompt medical assessment of -- any breast changes.

"Whenever one notices symptoms which could be breast cancer or any other cancer, one should not hesitate to seek a doctor for rapid assessment," Kosters tells WebMD.

To Saslow, the key message is to get medical attention for any breast lumps, whether those lumps are found during a breast self-exam or "in the shower or getting dressed or looking in the mirror or her husband [notices it]."

The review "doesn't say never touch your breasts again. It says that the normal poking around that we all do is enough, and that formal ... breast self-exam doesn't add to that," says Love, who calls the review "excellent."

"Where we really should be putting our efforts is how to prevent breast cancer, not how to find cancers that are already there, but how can we make it not happen in the first place," Love says. "If we could get to a point where we're not even looking for cancer, we're looking for cells that might be cancer some day when they grow up, then we have a more reasonable chance to get rid of this disease."

The review doesn't mean that breast self-exams haven't helped individual women. Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts said in 2007 that she found the lump that turned out to be breast cancer during a breast self-exam.

But in large groups of women, the numbers aren't there to show a survival benefit, Kosters and colleagues report.

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