Breast self examinations – new thoughts!

By Dr Janey

Monthly breast self examinations, or BSE as it is sometimes referred to, have been advocated for many years as a means for women to monitor their own breasts for cancer.

However, substantial studies such as the following, now cast doubt on this procedure:


A study involving 266 000 Chinese women over 12 years in which one group was given                 intensive instruction on monthly self exams, while the other group was not, revealed the following:

No difference was found in the number of cancers discovered, the stage of disease or mortality rates.

In fact the only difference noted was that the group doing extensive self exams were subjected to more biopsy procedures.

Journal of the NCI


In view of studies such as the one referred to above, many experts are now advocating ‘breast awareness’ as opposed to the more vigorous ‘breast self examinations’.  This ‘softer’ approach that is less prone to paranoia (and the harmful effects thereof – see more below), advocates creating an awareness of what is normal for each woman through gentle observation, a listening to and awareness of the body and a feeling of the breast tissue, while gently monitoring for any signs of changes.


Some of the changes in the breast tissue to be noted and reported to your doctor may include the following:

  • Thickening/lump
  • Dimpling or indentation of the skin
  • Redness/pitting
  • Discharge from nipple
  • Inverted nipple or flakiness
  • Pain/tenderness
  • Change of shape
  • Enlarged lymph nodes/swelling in arm pit


breast self examination

On the point of the risk of causing paranoia, as alluded to above, having interviewed many women with breast cancer, the response to questioning on the procedure of vigorous and regular breast self examinations is frequently one of experiencing an uneasiness during the procedure that would appear to stem from a nervousness of what they may find.

This nervousness, fear or even expectation of finding the very thing they fear the most – a breast lump, needs to be considered potentially harmful in itself.  We need to remind ourselves of one of the Universal laws; that being that focusing our thoughts and energy excessively on the things we fear, can over time inadvertently set the stage for creating the very reality we fear! This is an important point, (although seldom mentioned) that brings into the equation the crucial role that the mind plays in preventing (and causing) disease.

Therefore in summary, while vigorous monthly breast self checks may work well for some women in maintaining peace of mind, in which case it may be best to continue unchanged; for others this often rigorous process and excessive focus on the very thing these women fear, may be counterproductive.  Therefore for those women who do experience uneasiness and expectation of the worst outcome, it may be preferable to adopt an approach more of gentle breast awareness and self examination in a manner that avoids paranoia, while still creating an awareness of the body and breasts that establishes peace of mind.

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