For years, I’ve said that breast self-examinations are a complete waste of time for women. And now, as always, the health care industry is belatedly catching up to my way of thinking.
A recent report by the Cochrane Collaboration – an international organization that evaluates medical research – is questioning the usefulness of breast self-exams, and has found (like I’ve suspected) that these exams may actually be doing more harm than good.
The study found that the inaccuracy of these exams can put women at risk for invasive and unnecessary treatment. In the study, women who performed breast self-exams were twice as likely to be subjected to biopsies with benign results.
Right now you’re thinking, "Isn’t it good news to get a negative result from a biopsy when the alternative is being diagnosed with breast cancer?" Well, no… especially if that biopsy was unnecessary to begin with. A breast biopsy is an incredibly invasive diagnostic test, and the women who are subjected to these tests are often left with significant scarring, breast deformities, and, consequently, emotional wounds.
To put it in perspective, these scars can be as devastating to women as the sexual dysfunction experienced by men after needless prostate cancer procedures that may occur as a result of inaccurate PSA screenings. According to a 1998 study, 61 percent of women who had undergone a benign surgical biopsy still had symptoms of anxiety of psychological distress five months after the fact.
In the study, half of the women were taught how to self-examine their breasts, while the other half was not. Of the women in the study who eventually died of breast cancer, 292 had routinely self-examined themselves while 295 did not. Obviously breast self examination offered next to no benefit whatever.
I’m not at all surprised that it played out this way. And if you’re at all familiar with a woman’s breasts, you shouldn’t be surprised either.
Almost all breasts are lumpy because they contain mammary glands. These lumps are what it’s all about (i.e., milk production). To most people (including most doctors), it is very difficult to distinguish between a lump of mammary gland and a lump of cancer. Yes, it is true that cancer is usually harder than normal glandular tissue, but if there is any fibrous tissue present, it is impossible to distinguish between cancer and, well, not cancer.
This creates all sorts of problems. When it’s difficult for a trained medical professional to determine whether or not a lump in a breast is suspect, what chance does a woman have? Especially since her head is already filled with anxiety that anything she feels that’s different could be a death sentence.
Women with lumpy breasts are kept in a constant state of anxiety, discovering new lumps, rushing to the doctor, waiting for the biopsy report, wondering "How much time do I have left? Has it gone to my brain, my bones?" This pathetic drama is repeated hundreds of times every week in communities all over the nation, at great cost and to no purpose. Billions of dollars are wasted yearly because of women being advised to do an examination they are not qualified to do and that most doctors aren’t qualified to do either.
So then what’s the answer? All I’ve told you about is what’s not working. Of course, just because current cancer screening tests are flawed, it doesn’t mean that we should stop screening for cancer. In the past, I’ve told you that the Anti Malignin Antibody Screen (AMAS) blood test is the best cancer-screening test out there – better than even than mammogram (which, by the way, is equally useless … but that’s a story for another day).
William Campbell Douglass I.I., M.D. has been called "the conscience of modern medicine," and the National Health Federation voted him "Doctor of the Year."
Learn more about him, and sign up for his "Daily Dose" at www.douglassreport.com.