Breast self-exams, which many doctors recommend despite little evidence of benefit, do women more harm than good, according to new research.
A review of two studies involving nearly 400,000 women in Russia and China found that those who performed self-exams underwent almost twice as many biopsies (invasive procedures that remove fluid or tissue that is then analyzed for signs of cancer) that did not find tumors as women who did not examine themselves. There was no meaningful difference in the two groups' death rates.
According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women, after skin cancer – with more than 200,000 women diagnosed each year.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an expert panel that issues the federal government's official advice on preventive medicine, no longer recommends routine breast self-exams. The American Cancer Society calls breast self-exams optional for most women, noting their benefits are unclear.
The group also recommends annual mammograms for women over age 40 and clinical breast exams every three years for women in their 20s and 30s.