The end of breast self-exams?



My smarty-pants husband is a graduate of a dual MD/PhD medical scientist training program. Students in his program (ie, gluttons for punishment) start out by completing their first two years of medical school, followed by three to five years of doctoral work in a life sciences laboratory, then complete their final two years of medical school doing clinical work.

During my husband’s first two years in medical school, he learned how to complete procedures like taking patient histories, blood draws, and educating patients in preventative medicine. After he successfully completed his doctoral degree in cancer research, he traded his mad scientist uniform of jeans and a somewhat clean shirt back in for his white coat. His first week doing clinical work was at our county’s women’s health care clinic, and his very first tasks were to educate women who came into the clinic on how to properly administer breast self-examinations.

As he demonstrated the small, rotating circle technique that he had learned back during his pre-clinical studies three years earlier, the health care provider watching him stopped and corrected him — apparently, that breast self-exam technique had been replaced by a new longer stroke technique sometime during his stint in graduate school. While the patient he was instructing ended up getting the most up-to-date education available, he was embarrassed by his lack of sharp technique and it shook his confidence considerably.

I was reminded of this story when reading a recent post by PJ over at the My Breast Cancer Network, who recently reported another huge change in the long-standing practice of self-exams in breast cancer prevention. Apparently, self-exams have now been downgraded in status by the Canadian Cancer Society from being recommended as a monthly routine to merely optional.

“The Canadian Cancer Society last week followed the lead of the American Cancer Society, which last March revised its official stance on BSEs. In the past, the ACS recommended m monthly BSEs following a particular method: “Lie down and place your right arm behind your head. Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue…” Now, the ACS Web site says, “It is acceptable for women to choose not to do BSE or to do BSE occasionally.” Why the change?”

Apparently, the practice of breast self-examinations bore no correlation to a decrease in mortality due to breast cancer. Women are advised, however, to remain vigilant in any changes in their breast tissue.

See PJ’s article, Breast Self-Exams: No Longer Necessary?, for more details.

Women: Will this affect how often you perform breast self-exams? How often do you perform them now?

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