WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - WECT's monthly reminders to do breast self exams are going away.
That's because the self exams are no longer recommended by the American Cancer Society.
"Monthly breast self exams do more harm than good," stated Dr. David Grimes, a retired gynocologist from UNC hopsitals.
According to Dr. Grimes, breast self exams are harmful because they lead to unnecessary biopsies. "And these biopsies entail worry, inconvenience, pain, and expense," added Dr. Grimes.
Major health organizations across the country, including the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute have abandoned breast self exams as a screening practice.
Organizations like the American Cancer Society ditched recommendations for breast self exams a year ago.
Here are the ACS's recommendations as of October 2015:
- Women with an average risk of breast cancer – most women – should begin yearly mammograms at age 45.
- Women should be able to start the screening as early as age 40, if they want to. It’s a good idea to start talking to your health care provider at age 40 about when you should begin screening.
- At age 55, women should have mammograms every other year – though women who want to keep having yearly mammograms should be able to do so.
- Regular mammograms should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.
"The data shows that doing the monthly breast self exam really hasn't changed the survival for patients with breast cancer," according to Dr. Michelle Fillion, an oncology surgeon at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
Dr. Fillion said local physicians are now following the new guidelines and while they no longer recommend monthly breast self exams, physicians across the country encourage women to be more aware of their bodies.
"Instead of necessarily on the first of every month or the sixth of every month that they have to be diligent about doing their own breast exam, but just being more in tune with their own body," said Dr. Fillion.
For at least two decades now, women have been encouraged to do breast self exams.
WECT's Pink Packs included instructions on how to do the exams. Over the years, WECT has interviewed women who say they found a lump that turned out to be cancer by doing the monthly breast self exam.
The divide may come down to healthcare cost as breast cancer screenings are expensive.
The debate over when a woman should start yearly mammograms continues to split medical professionals.
According to Annals of Internal Medicine, if women start screenings at age 40, its estimated to run around $10 billion a year and for women over 50, it's about $2 billion.
Medicare spends almost as much money screening for breast cancer as it does for treating it. Over a billion dollars is spent annually for each.
Whatever years of research concludes, the news will come as a surprise to some.
"This is confusing and unsettling for most patients as there still is some controversy and physicians and professional organizations are still sorting out themselves what are the best recommendations for woman at this point in time," stated Dr. Fillion.
Grimes, however, does not waiver. "Science indicates that doing a monthly breast self exam is not helpful," added Dr. Grimes.