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Do Breast Self-Exams Work?

2 minute read
Christine Gorman

Quite a few women were secretly relieved last week to hear the conclusion of a Chinese study, reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, that performing breast self-exams does not affect the risk of dying from breast cancer. Many women don’t like doing a full examination of their breasts and often feel guilty that they don’t do one every month.

Here are the details of the study: 266,000 female factory workers in Shanghai (where mammograms are rare) were divided into two groups. One was taught how to perform breast self-exams and reminded to do so regularly, while the other was never even taught. After 11 years, there was no difference in the groups’ mortality rates due to breast cancer.

So what’s a woman to do? Although routine mammography is far from perfect, it does detect many breast tumors at their earliest, most treatable stage, particularly in women over 50, says Dr. David Thomas, the study’s principal investigator and a cancer epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Still, he concedes, if you’re in a high-risk group and you know how to do them right, regular, thorough breast self-exams may be worth doing. In any event, if you discover a lump, be sure to tell your doctor immediately. –By Christine Gorman

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