Are Breast Self Exams Effective?

By Charles Li MD

  • We've been teaching and recommending breast self-exams for decades, but are they actually effective?
  • In the highest quality study to date on this topic, patients who were randomly selected to receive intensive instruction on breast self-exams had no difference in survival compared to control patients who did not receive instruction.
  • Based on this trial, and an additional trial which came to similar conclusions, the Final Summary from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force on Breast Cancer Screening has removed the recommendation for teaching breast self-exams:
  • "The USPSTF recommends against teaching breast self-examination (BSE).
  • We have visualized the data behind this decision to help you decide for yourself:

Interactive Graphic Instructions: Slide or Hover the blue line on the chart to change the numbers below. Lines correspond to calculated values, areas correspond to margins of error.

Purple: Patients Instructed in Breast Self Examination

White: Control Patients without Instruction

Hover or tap the blocks to highlight groups on the graph. 95CI represents the margin of error (95% Confidence Interval)

At Year :



Cumulative Mortality of Patients Instructed on Breast Self Exams



Cumulative Mortality of Patients without Instruction

Additional Facts

Downloadable Chart (PNG) - Click to Enlarge

chart of statistics for mammograms in your 40s
More Visualizations to Explore:

Mammograms in your 40s?

10 Deadliest Cancers in Women

10 Deadliest Cancers in Men

Late Stage Breast Cancer Survival


Thomas, David B., et al. "Randomized trial of breast self-examination in Shanghai: final results." Journal of the national Cancer Institute 94.19 (2002): 1445-1457.'div.y-early').on('mouseover',function(){areas['Early'].attr('opacity', '1')}) .on('mouseout',function(){ areas['Early'].attr('opacity', '0.3')});