Breast Self Exams, Evidence?

I was reading Gary Schwitzer’s blog this morning. He offers, as usual, excellent public health perspective. His latest post was about breast self examination (BSE). The title sums up his post nicely:

“Check ‘em Tuesday” and CoppaFeel campaign strong on promotion, weak on evidence

Do BSEs save lives? The evidence isn’t there. Gary cites Dr. Margaret McCartney in the British Medical Journal:

Teaching women to examine their breasts regularly has been shown not to reduce deaths from breast cancer and actually increases the chances of a benign biopsy result.

Publicity campaigns that claim to be “against cancer” seem to get past much critical challenge, to our collective disadvantage. Public health messages should be based on evidence.

If we fail to critically evaluate campaigns on cancer, we create the appearance of doing something useful while potentially distracting from what might really help. In doing so we potentially harm the very women we’re purporting to help.”

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men 15 to 40 years old. And almost all men, by the time they reach the age of 80 will have prostate cancer. You would think that groups which believe self exams are helpful, with campaigns urging women to:

  • “Check ‘em and share pics.”
  • ONCE you’ve checked ’em, post ’em.
  • Put your snaps on Facebook or on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #checkemtuesday

… would urge men to do the same. Here are some guides for men in performing self exams.



And a brief wiki with photos on How To Check Your Prostate.

The “Check ‘em and share pics.” part gains new perspective.

2 thoughts on “Breast Self Exams, Evidence?

    1. Bix Post author

      They’re objectifying women, which they do anyway, but here they’re doing it behind a cloak of medical need, which is all kinds of wrong. It’s wrong because it’s unethical to whitewash sexism, and it’s wrong because it encourages women (regardless of age?) to post photos of their intimate exams on the internet (if sharing photos is for a medical reason, why doesn’t The Sun encourage men to post photos of their intimate self exams also?), and it’s especially wrong because, contrary to their implication, that breast self examination saves lives, it doesn’t. And can lead to harm:

      “Although it is a common practice, teaching breast self-examination does not reduce breast cancer mortality and may increase false-positive rates. Two large randomized trials, one in China involving more than 266,000 women and the other in Russia involving more than 120,300 women, did not demonstrate a mortality benefit from teaching breast self-examination.4,5 A review of eight other studies did not show a benefit for the rate of breast cancer diagnosis, the tumor size or stage, or the rate of death from breast cancer.6″
      Breast Cancer Screening Update, American Family Physician, February 2013


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