Study questions efficacy of breast self-examination

Breast self-examination (BSE) has no effect on mortality or the stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed, suggests a study published in the March 5 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The trial involved 267,040 Chinese women born between 1925 and 1958. The women were randomly divided into a control group and an instruction group. Those in the instruction group were given intensive personalized training in BSE at the beginning of the study in 1989. They were also given two reinforcement sessions and periodic reminders to practice self-examination. None of the women in either group received regular mammography.

After five years, researchers found no difference in breast cancer mortality between women in the control and instruction groups. Also, breast tumors in women trained in BSE were not detected earlier than tumors in women not trained in the technique. The trial will continue for another five years. Until then, the researchers say there is not enough evidence to recommend against the use of BSE.