More confusing messages from medicine, this time over breast examination.

Women with a family history of breast cancer have been urged to examine their breasts frequently but now new research suggests the exercise is counter productive.

“Excessive” breast examination presumably once a day or so can increase anxiety, and may make early detection of breast cancer more difficult, say researchers from the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff.

They surveyed 833 women aged from 17 to 77 with histories of family breast cancer; 18 per cent said they examined their breasts daily or weekly, 56 per cent once or twice a month, and 26 per cent rarely. General anxiety was lowest among the women who examined themselves the least.

“Women who examine their breasts may be unaware that it can be normal to have lumps and may interpret any they find as evidence of cancer. This reinforces feelings of anxiety and may reduce the efficacy of the procedure itself,” says lead researcher Kate Brain.

Their conclusions are in line with current UK health policy of breast awareness rather than self examination. Confused? No wonder (Psychom Med, 1999; 61: 181-7).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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