CNN has posted a very interesting article about blind women in Germany who are being trained to perform breast examinations.  The program, called "Discovering Hands," is based on the theory that the blind have a keener, more sensitive sense of touch and may be able to detect small lumps that may have otherwise been overlooked.

There is some debate about the utility of breast self-examinations.  A 2001 study published by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care argued that self exams do not benefit but rather cause harm to patients.  They associated self exams with a higher incidence of physician's visits and unnecessary biopsies.  (You can access a summary of the article for free here.)

Based on my personal experience, I am an advocate of self exams.  One of my family members discovered a small lump while doing a self exam at home, which indeed turned out to be a tumor.  Luckily, it had not spread and required a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation to remove.  In our case, there was a family history of breast cancer and my relative was vigilant about doing self exams.  Since lumpiness of the breasts varies from woman to woman and depends on the time of the month, I can see how self exams can also be confounding and unreliable.  What are your opinions on breast self-examinations?

For more information on breast self-examination:

  • A guide from the American Cancer Society
  • A guide from the Susan G. Komen Foundation

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Comments

The evidence suggests the use of self breast exams on a society level as a screening tool is a poor test. Anecodotal reports of discovery of suspicious lumps can likely be matched to women that underwent invasive testing for a benign lesion. As a physician I do not teach self breast exam.

This post brings up something that I struggle with alot, which is finding a middle ground between being proactive in my health care awareness and not being a total hypochondriac. Honestly, I feel so bombarded by the media scare tactics that every sore neck is meningitis, every mole is cancer, and every heart burn is a heart attack. I'm 26! Health awareness is such a difficult thing because I think they general process today is to scare people into being aware.

I don't know, I haven't found that balance yet. I still have doctors brush my concerns off as ludicrous sometimes, so maybe I'm just a loony hypochondriac after all. :P Also, I don't do breast exams, mostly cause mine are all lumpy bumpy and I just really don't know that I can feel a new lump, unless it was just huge or painful.

The best way to find breast lumps is to do 3 things:

* Have regular mammograms (usually every 1-2 years starting around age 40).
* Have your doctor check your breasts.
* Check your breasts yourself every month.

Doing all of these things gives you the best chance to find cancer as early as you can. Finding breast cancer early makes treatment much easier and more effective.

Interesting article but I think this alls gives Obama a great opportunity to manipulate our heath Care system and expand government spending and control. It's not Uncle Sam its gonna be Dr. Sam I feel like I'm in a casino and the house always wins... Great article though, I just linked this from my blog because I want my members to read this.

Having had a close family member diagnosed with breast cancer - following her finding the lump by performing self examination, I would think it a good practice in general. This lump would not have been found otherwise, until maybe the cancer was far advanced..

I support breast self examination in addition to checks by my doc and mammograms every 2 years. There might be a chance of false positives with BSE but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Having had a close family member diagnosed with breast cancer – following her finding the lump by performing self examination, I would think it a good practice in general. This lump would not have been found otherwise, until maybe the cancer was far advanced..

Last year I found a lump in my breast that mammograms didn't pick up, even when I could show the technician where it was. Turned out to be Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, but because it was caught relatively early, the treatment wasn't horrendous and I currently have no evidence of disease and a spectacular prognosis. Do your self exams.

I discovered cancer in my breast by self-exam. And even then, it did not show up on a mamo or an ultrasound, yet by doing a biopsy they confirmed invasive ductal carcinoma. It was at a late stage and had become metastatic. The docs were shocked.

Two things: trust yourself, know yourself and look into thermography. I had had a thermography exam which DID show unusual and increasing 'heat' in my films. It is not an invasive procedure. Self care is the key to empowerment and health.

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