A recent health trial conducted by an international group called the Cochrane Collaboration has revealed that self-breast exams may be causing harm to your breasts.

A study involving 400,000 Chinese and Russian women has found that regular self-breast exams really bear no effect on whether or not a woman will detect breast cancer in the early stages, when treatment is most effective and the rate of survival is highest. In fact, the study shows that self-exams lead to an increased number of unnecessary biopsies, which can lead to other health issues, including the development of scar tissue that may be misleading during future mammograms or other surgical biopsies.

The authors of the study go as far as recommending that women do not perform self-breast exams at all.

Chris Herget, who is in her forties, has performed self-exams in the past, but has “never really felt competent” doing them on her own. She is “relieved” to hear that self-breast exams are no longer necessary.

“I have very fibrous breasts so everything feels like a ‘pea,'” Herget said. “The first time I told a doctor that I thought I’d found a lump, he was like, ‘That’s nothing, that’s a fat cell.'”

Doctor David B. Thomas, of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, claims that this new study proves that self-exams are “probably a waste of time.”

Still, some women find this news disturbing and quite confusing. 29-year old New Yorker Liz Lane, who had practiced self-breast exams in the past, seemed to be glad that she had “one less thing to do,” but was concerned about what kinds of long-term health implications her decision to no longer perform self-exams might have.

“Now I’m not sure what I am supposed to do to check myself,” Lane said.

Dr. Thomas stated that is important to understand that a great deal of the “lumps and bumps” that women locate while doing their self-exams are generally just benign lesions. Worries about a lump as a result of a self-exam often lead to surgical procedures that are risky and painful – procedures that women may not actually need at all.

So what should women do now?  Dr. Thomas claims that women in their twenties and thirties do not need to perform self-breast exams at all. However, many women who have a history of breast cancer in their family may decide to continue with their self-exams as a precautionary measure.

Women who are in their forties and older should be sure to undergo a mammogram yearly to detect any changes in their breasts. It has been proven that regular mammograms are a “lifesaver,” and can actually reduce a woman’s chances of dying of breast cancer by 30 to 40%.

It is important to note, however, that there is certainly some benefit to regular self-breast exams. Consistent self-exams allow women to detect changes in the way their breasts look or feel. If you are a woman who practices regular self-exams and notices a change, it is advisable to consult with your physician immediately.

Related article courtesy of MSNBC.com. For additional information related to breast health, visit The Breast Site.

Nicolette Kuff is a freelance writer from Upstate NY.

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