LIFESTYLE

Self-Checking For Breast Cancer Symptoms 'Could Do More Harm Than Good'

02/04/2014 12:06 BST | Updated 02/04/2014 13:59 BST

Encouraging women to regularly check their breasts for signs of breast cancer could be doing more harm than good, a health expert has warned.

Writing for the British Medical Journal Dr Margaret McCartney says that self-examination does not reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer "and actually increases the chances of a benign biopsy result".

She added: "It is unfair to tell women that regular self-examination will save their lives when it may simply incur anxiety and have the potential to harm.”

breast cancer

Dr McCartney's warning came shortly after The Sun launched its 'Check 'em Tuesday' campaign in association with breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!.

The campaign is a weekly reminder for women to check their breasts. Readers are asked to send in photos to prove compliance and can even sign up for a text message reminder.

Although the partnership between Coppafeel! and The Sun has been criticised before, Dr McCartney is the first to question its medical integrity - until now critics have focused on the objectification of women's bodies through Page 3.

Dr McCartney says: “We have the paper saying it’s ‘The Sun versus breast cancer’. They say they are going to save lives, when they have no right to make that claim."

Most breast cancer charities and health organisations, recommend monthly self-checking and highlight five key symptoms. The NHS highlights eight possible symptoms.

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Dr McCartney was keen to stress that people should not ignore lumps, but that people are no more likely to find them through self-checking.

“If you get a lump you should definitely get it checked,” she said. “What I can’t say is that checking yourself regularly is a particularly good way of going about saving lives.”

Dr McCartney argues that public health messages "should be based on evidence" and that their effects "need to be proved to affect behaviour in a way that is helpful and not harmful."

She says: "If we fail to critically evaluate campaigns on cancer, we create the appearance of doing something useful while potentially distracting from what might really help. In doing so we potentially harm the very women we're purporting to help."

Founder of Coppafeel! Kris Hallenga, who has incurable secondary breast cancer, told HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "If we save just one life it will be worth it."

The Coppafeel! collaboration with The Sun has already prompted many women to seek help, she reveals.

"Thousands more people today are logging onto our website to find out how to check their boobs; we have been contacted by several women who have booked appointments with their GPs as a result of something they have found."

Kris Hallenga, Founder of CoppaFeel, said: "Breast cancer awareness among our target audience of young women is shockingly low. The only way that breast cancer is likely to be detected in these young women is if they check themselves regularly and know the signs and symptoms.

"This helps women to feel much more confident if they notice something and puts them in a better position to have a conversation with their GP if something arises.

"Currently many breast cancers are diagnosed late, due to late detection. We need to do all we can to ensure women of all ages know when to go to their GP, and know what is normal for them.

"Doctors across the country have been overwhelmingly supportive of our Check 'Em Tuesday campaign with The Sun. Breast awareness is recommended by the Department of Health and all major breast cancer charities in the UK."

To find out more about Coppafeel! and familiarise yourself with breast cancer symptoms, visit their website.