Studies of 388,535 women in Russia and China showed that those who were “breast aware” had nearly twice as many breast biopsies as those who didn’t check their breast.
However, the death rate amongst both groups was similar, the study found.
Under current medical guidance, women are advised to be “breast aware” by familiarising themselves about how their breasts feel to notice any changes.
“At present, screening by breast self-examination or physical examination (by a trained health worker) cannot be recommended,” said Jan Peter Kosters and Peter Gotzsche, from the Copenhagen-based Nordic Cochrane Centre.
The systematic review of medical trials appears in the latest issue of the Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation that evaluates medical research.
The studies found that women who used breast self-exams had 3,406 biopsies, compared with 1,856 biopsies in the group that did not do the exams.
There was no significant difference in the number of breast cancer deaths between the two groups.
According to the review, the China study also published data on how breast cancers identified in the women were treated.
It concluded that rates of both mastectomy and breast-conserving surgery such as lumpectomy were very similar between the exam and non-exam groups.
The Irish Cancer Society’s Action Breast Cancer (ABC) team has said that being breast aware is vital as it will alert you to the early signs of breast cancer including any dimples, puckering or discharge from the breast.
They pointed out that 74% of women with breast cancer detected the lump themselves and that early diagnosis offered the best chance for survival.
“Research by the World Health Organisation has found that regular rigid breast examination for cancerous lumps is not effective in detecting abnormalities in the breast and causes more anxiety in women.
“Instead, Action Breast Cancer encourages women to be breast aware. Breast awareness means women need to get to know how their breasts look and feel normally so that they notice any change that might be unusual.
“Detecting a change early means that if cancer is diagnosed any treatment may well have a better outcome,” said ABC manager Naomi Fitzgibbon.
* Action Breast Cancer’s helpline is 1800 30 90 40 (weekdays 9am–5pm).
The Irish Cancer Society’s five-point breast awareness code:
1. Know what is normal for you.
2. Know what changes to look and feel for.
3. Look and feel.
4. Report any changes to your GP without delay.
5. Always attend routine breast screening if you are aged 50 or over.