Breast self-exams do not cut breast cancer deaths

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Regular breast self-examination does not reduce death from breast cancer and may actually have a harmful effect by increasing the number of biopsies performed for benign disease, suggests an analysis of data from two large studies.

“Considering the currently available evidence, promotion of breast self-examination as a single screening method cannot be recommended,” conclude Drs. Jan Peters Kosters and Peter C. Gotzsche, from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen. “This is particularly true because there is good evidence of harm and there are also considerable costs related to general screening.”

The researchers analyzed data from clinical trials conducted in Russia and Shanghai that included 388,535 women.

Breast cancer deaths were comparable for women randomized to perform or not perform breast self-examination, the investigators report in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research.

In Russia, more cancers were found in the breast self-examination group than in the control group, while this was not the case in Shanghai, they report.

Overall, far more breast biopsies were performed in the breast self-examination group than in the control group (3,406 versus 1,856).

While the findings suggest no survival benefit for regular breast self-examination, the investigators emphasize that women should still be aware of any breast changes that occur and bring them to the attention of their doctor.

SOURCE: The Cochrane Library, 2008.