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Studies doubt breast self-exam success

July 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some may recall the day "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts announced that she had breast cancer.She was inspired to do a breast self-exam after reporting on colleague Joel Siegel who had just died from cancer.

"I happened to do a piece on the show about his courageous battle and how early detection is key, and that very night I found a lump," Roberts said.

Breast cancer survivor Pat Zinke also did her own self-exam.

"I think it saved my life because the tumor was very aggressive, and it was not there six weeks earlier," Zinke said.

Of patients diagnosed with breast cancer, 35 percent said they discovered their own lump. However, international experts are now saying self-exams are a bad idea for women.

"Actually breast self-exam could hurt according to this study. They found that women who religiously did breast self-exams had unnecessary biopsies without finding more cancers," Dr. Susan Love said.

In two large studies from Russia and China, researchers found no difference in breast cancer deaths among those who practiced breast self-exams and those who did not. In addition, a majority of women who ended up with a benign surgical biopsy struggled with anxiety.

"I think the real downside is in the few women who get so anxious it interferes with their life," Dr. Tim Johnson said.

The formal exam is a five-step process that takes a bit of time and is still recommended by many doctors.

"The only way you can know if there's a change in your breast is to know what they look like and feel like," Dr. Marissa Weiss said.

Studies show that a self-exam does not have to be done in a rigid way for women to detect changes.

 

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