(no) Breast self exams

I’m nearing the end of the 3rd quarter of my graduate school program to become a nurse-midwife.  Nearly 1/3 of the way finished!

One of my current classes discusses preventive medicine and screening tests.  We were introduced to a tool for primary care providers developed by the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force identifying preventive services which offer significant health benefits and are backed by evidence. For example, screenings for high blood pressure and sexually transmitted infections or counseling for obesity. The nice thing about this tool (it’s available as a free app!) is that it bases its screening and counseling recommendations on gender, age and predisposing conditions.


For me, the most notable recommendation was AGAINST teaching women to do breast self exams as a screening tool for breast cancer.  The evidence does not indicate that doing monthly breast self exams catches breast cancer earlier or decreases mortality. In fact, the high number of false positives (women who find lumps and bumps that end up being benign) causes more emotional distress for the woman, unnecessary testing and higher cost in the end.

This change in screening recommendation does not mean that women should not take responsibility for their health!  There are many things you can do to decrease your risk and follow screening tests which have been proven effective.  The Susan G Komen for the Cure website has some great guidelines:

Breast cancer screening and awareness

I urge you to take a look for yourself!  FYI:  knowing your personal risks, getting regular recommended screenings (such as yearly mammograms after age 40) and BREASTFEEDING as protection are on the list!

Do you know anyone who discovered their breast cancer using a breast self exam?  Has this been part of your regular preventive health routine?



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