How effective are breast self-exams for detecting breast cancer?

Multiple studies have shown that breast self-examination alone is not very effective in the detection of breast cancer, but in combination with routine clinical examinations and mammographic examinations, there is a higher rate of detecting breast cancer at an earlier stage.

While self-breast exams are important, they should not replace mammograms. Mammograms are important cancer detectors.

Three separate studies have shown that women who practice breast self-exams (BSE) find more benign breast conditions than women who do not perform BSE do. However, the studies found that the rate of breast cancer diagnoses was the same in both groups, and there was no difference in breast cancer death rates. In general, women who choose to practice BSE also make other health-conscious choices, and, as a result, have lower all-cause mortality than women who do not make healthy-living choices. That is, these women are less likely to die from breast cancer, but they are also less likely to die from heart disease, accidents, or other causes. On average, there is no evidence to show that BSE either helps or harms women who practice it. So, the choice is simply up to you.

If you are at high risk for developing breast cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests you start getting an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and mammogram annually at age 30, unless your healthcare provider suggests a different age. MRI scans are more sensitive than mammograms at detecting an abnormality in women with dense breasts. The two tests together give healthcare professionals a better chance of finding breast cancer in its early stages, when it is the most treatable.

Dr. Michael L. Paciorek, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

While breast self-exams (BSE) will not likely catch very early stages of cancer, it is still important to regularly perform them. In this video, Michael Paciorek, MD, of Mercy Health, discusses how effective breast self-exams are to women's health.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.