Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do Breast Self Exams Save Lives?

For all of you who were looking for an entry last night, I apologize. I got home very late and the internet was down. After spending a 1/2 hour trying to reset it, I gave up and went to bed. Last night the local chapter of the Young Survival Coalition met. To be with such a group of strong, empowering women is inspiring. Some are like me and currently in treatment, some are dealing with a cancer recurrence, while others have passed their 5 year survival mark. We were discussing "anniversary" milestones like the anniversary of diagnosis, anniversary of the end of treatment and the anniversary of being cancer-free. It's important to celebrate such milestones as time is all we really have. So acknowledging the "anniversaries" is the "in your face" that death deserves!
Amazingly, most of these women discovered their cancer through a self-breast exam and most are much younger than the mammography baseline age guideline. Sadly, the validity of performing monthly breast self-exams to find cancerous tumors early enough to improve survival rates is continually brought into question. Two population-based studies compared breast self-exams with no intervention and found that self-exams didn’t reduce a woman’s chance of dying from breast cancer. In fact, says the review, it may do more harm than good by increasing the number of unnecessary biopsies performed and the level of emotional stress women experience when they find benign lumps. To that I say, "BULLSHIT"! Many of those I hang out with at group may very well have succumbed to breast cancer had it not been for them detecting their cancer. Do we not deserve to have every lump checked regardless of how many benign lumps may be discovered? HELL YES!
The American Cancer Society guidelines state that women should understand the benefits and limitations of breast self-exams, and be more aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and consult with their physician if they notice changes. But other medical experts disagree. “Right now, we have the doctor’s examination, mammography, and a woman’s self-exam. I object to abandoning the one that is the most convenient and least costly,” says Marisa Weiss, MD, director of breast radiation oncology at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and founder of “And the other consideration is that many women don’t have access to medical care, to mammography, and about 20 percent of breast cancers are detected by physical exam alone. So if you tell women not to do a breast self-exam then you’re missing the opportunity for them to have the earliest form of detection in their setting.” RIGHT ON, SISTER!

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