Breast Self Examination or BSE
Breast self examination is a bit of a controversial topic within the medical community. It is unclear whether self examination actually results in a reduction in mortality rates.
Also, yes, it is possible that women may detect some breast cancers that a routine screening mammography may miss. However, in many cases, self examination leads to a great increase in psychological stress on the individual, and places unnecessary strain on medical resources.
Breast Self Examination and Cancer Detection
About 8 out of every 10 lesions discovered by an individual by breast self examination turn out to be benign. There is no hard evidence really on which to conclude that breast self examination results in a breast cancer mortality rate reduction.
Furthermore, women in there 40’s should be undertaking a proper medical mammogram screening every year to 18 months anyway. The mammograms should detect any lesions and inform as to any further diagnostic followups, and treatments if necessary.
In fact women detect most cancers themselves by breast self examination. However, the survival rate would be higher with regular, proper screening. This is because, by the time that a breast cancer is big enough to be felt as a lump, it probably is at a more advanced stage.
So, mammography can detect VERY early, treatable breast cancers before any clinical symptoms, such as a lump, are present.
What is a breast self exam?
Basically, to perform a breast self exam a woman stands in front of a mirror naked from the top up. Look for any signs of swelling, sorenes, or dimpling in all parts of the breast.
To carry out a breast self examination, firstly place your hands resting on the hips and next, repeat with your arms raised above the head.
Secondly, feel the breasts with your fingers, pressing lightly at first to find surface abnormalities, and then pressing more heavily to check for lumps within the deeper tissue.
In addition, you should check the ‘axillary tail’ of each breast that leads toward the armpits. Next you should again feel the breasts whilst lying down. The nipples should also be gently squeezed to check for any discharge.
It is of interest to note that the technique of breast self examination is generally not something that physicians instruct their patients to do. However, ‘clinicians‘ tend to teach breast self examination.
So, statistics tend to show both postive and negative results from breast self examination. But one thing is clear and that is that breast self examination is certainly no substitute for regular breast cancer screening.
Indeed, breast cancer screening should begin at an appropriate age, about 40, or earlier if a women is in a known higher risk group.
Visit this page for more information on the presenting complaints when women first inquire about possible breast cancer.
- Baxter N. (2001) Preventive health care, 2001 update: Should women be routinely taught breast self-examination to screen for breast cancer. CJMA, June 26, 2001;164 (13). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC81191/
- Brain K, Norman P, Gray J, Mansel R. (1999) Anxiety and adherence to breast self-examination in women with a family history of breast cancer. Psychosom Med. 1999;61(2):181–187. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10204971
- Kosters JP, Gotzsche PC. (2003) Regular self-examination or clinical examination for early detection of breast cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12804462
- National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Breast self-exam (BSE). http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam
- Nekhlyudov L, Fletcher SW. (2001) Is it time to stop teaching breast self-examination? CJMA, June 26, 2001; 164 (13). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC81193/
- Thomas DB, Gao DL, Ray RM. (et al). (2002) Randomized trial of breast self-examination in Shanghai: final results. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(19):1445–1457. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12359854