To Check, or Not to Check? That is the Question

The process has always been a simple one. You go to the doctor for your yearly uncomfortable, and totally awkward physical. If all goes well, you’re sent on your way, but before you leave the office, your doctor reminds you to do regular breast self-exams (BSEs) from time to time. You nod your head, smile, and get on with your day. Some take the doctor’s advice, others don’t, but generally, it has always been recommended to do so.

However, recently doctors have changed their views on this, and have actually urged their patients not to perform breast self-exams. This is due to the fact that in 2007, the Canadian Cancer Society stopped recommending it as a way to find cancer. You are probably as confused as I was when I heard this, and that is why I am here to shed light on the two stances that exist within this controversial debate.

Dr. Nancy Baxter, a surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, explains that based on her studies, women who regularly did BSEs were just as likely to pass away from breast cancer as those who did not. She argues that young women have a very low risk of developing breast cancer, and so most BSE findings will be benign. Interestingly enough, she states that although most women discover breast cancer on their own, they are more likely to find out through bathing, dressing, or sexual relations, rather than BSEs. Baxter also highlights the fact that tumours found with BSE are relatively large compared to other screening tests such as mammography. Consistently performing your own examination leads to more unnecessary physician visits for breast problems and unwarranted biopsies.

Diana Ermel, the president of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network and a nurse of 42 years, has a different perspective. She was lucky enough to discover her own cancer 16 years ago, and explains that it is important to go to a health professional if a woman feels that something is abnormal and the only way to do this, is to understand what is “normal” for her. BSEs help women learn what their “normal” is, and can increase the odds of catching warning signs early.

This leaves us with the question of which stance is the correct one. At this point, it is important to note that there are valid arguments for each side, and that the debate will likely continue until a more concrete answer is formed. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, visit

Written by Nicole Zavalkovsky 

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