Controversy over Breast Self Exams
Teaching women breast self-examination (BSE) does not appear to decrease the number of deaths from breast cancer, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. However, intensive teaching of BSE was found to increase the rate of benign breast biopsies, potentially adding to health care costs without benefits.
Evidence from non-randomized observational studies had not been consistent. Given such evidence, the U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force currently does not recommend for or against the teaching of BSE.
To address this issue directly, David B. Thomas, M.D., Dr.P.H., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and his colleagues randomly assigned 266,064 female factory workers in Shanghai to either a BSE instruction group or a control group. Women in the BSE group were taught how to perform BSE and participated in reinforcement sessions 1 and 3 years later. The women also received regular reminders to practice BSE monthly and practiced BSE under medical supervision every 6 months for 5 years. The control group received no information on breast cancer screening.