Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

No More Breast Self-Exams?

I recently read that breast self-exams don't do any good – and may actually be harmful. This seems crazy. What's the alternative? More mammograms? 

Answer (Published 10/6/2008)

You probably read about a review published in July, 2008, by the Cochrane Library, an international center that reviews medical research. The review concluded that there's no evidence to show that breast self-exams (BSE) reduce deaths from breast cancer. The review also found that monthly BSEs led to almost twice as many biopsies that showed no cancer among women who performed them compared to women who didn't.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Women's Health Issues - If you are going through menopause, a support group can be helpful. The Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide has a vibrant, active community of supportive members, and a dedicated moderator to help guide you along. Start your 14-day free trial now!

This isn't the first review to conclude that breast self-exams aren't worthwhile. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) stopped recommending that women age 20 and over do self-exams five years ago, when a 2003 review came to the same conclusion. The ACS guidelines for breast cancer screening now list monthly self-exams as an "option" for women and state that all women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE when they're in their twenties so they can decide whether or not to practice it.

Based on the evidence, you may choose not to do BSE, but I believe that all women should be familiar with the way their breasts normally feel so that they can recognize any changes and report them to their physicians.

Some of the evidence evaluated in the Cochrane review came from two large studies of nearly 400,000 women in Russia and China. All told, the group that performed self-exams had 3,406 biopsies compared to 1,856 in the group that didn't. (A breast biopsy involves discomfort, to say nothing of the anxiety it can provoke and the money it costs.) The Cochrane review found no difference in breast cancer deaths between the two groups.

The ACS still recommends annual mammograms for women over 40 (although there's also controversy about whether this is worthwhile). There is no question that the earlier malignant tumors are detected, the more curable they are. If you're comfortable doing breast self-exams (in addition to mammograms) there's no reason why you should not continue.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here