Keeping Abreast with Cancer

The latest word on breast cancer: self-examinations do not lower the risk. A new study released on October 2 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institutefound that the same number of women died from breast cancer, whether or not they were familiar with self-examinations. Some 266,064 Chinese women participated in the Shanghai-based 10-year study. Many women must now decide what to make of the findings.

"Doing a breast self-exam has no downside. All it could have is an upside," says Sandra Haber, Ph.D., a specialist in breast cancer. "It does not make logical sense to abandon it." Even if self-exams have been found less effective, argues Haber, this research does not prove that they are without value.

As a psychological tool, breast self-examinations help women cope with cancer, a disease they have little control over. Also, in a broader sense, exams promote a healthier lifestyle. "You are doing something within your control and you are taking good care of yourself," says Haber. "You want people to take charge of their lives and make good health decisions."

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"For any one woman that will do an exam and will locate breast cancer in its very early stages, thus saving her life," Haber explains, "that's terrific."

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