How Effective are Mammograms and Breast Self-Exams?
The Breast Self-Exam Brouhaha
The breast self-exam (BSE) controversy revolves around an 11-year study of female factory workers in Shanghai, China. The results were published in the October 2, 2002 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Shanghai was chosen as the test area because most of the women in the region were employed at one factory throughout their working life. Since they received all of their medical care through their employer, it was much easier for researchers to chart their progress. Approximately 133,000 women were extensively trained in breast self-exam (BSE), while another 133,000 were only given yearly physical exams. These women were not trained in BSE. BSE and yearly physicals were the only screening options available to these women. They did not receive mammograms.
Researchers determined that, even though the women who received extensive BSE training discovered more benign tumors and underwent more biopsies, their death rates from breast cancer were not significantly lower. They found that BSE alone did not necessarily lead to early detection of breast cancer.