The Canadian Cancer Society announced Wednesday it is no longer recommending routine breast self-examinations as a way to detect cancer.

While women are encouraged to be aware of abnormalities, regular scheduled self-exams give women a false sense of security and increase stress and unnecessary treatment, the Society says.

Heather Logan, director of Cancer Control Policy and Information for the Canadian Cancer Society told that organized screening with mammography and clinical breast examinations done by a doctor are recommended instead of monthly self exams.

"There is no evidence that doing a rigorous, systematic BSE will lower breast cancer death rates. The general transition is toward general breast health awareness where you are aware of normal breast tissue, the feel and look, and you can detect changes and report them to your doctor," Logan said on Wednesday.

Logan said a number of women feel guilty and anxious about not performing BSE in an accurate manner. Often times, women who do find a benign lump or a "false positive" often have to go through extensive diagnostic testing that can result in harmful side effects.

"You can get an infection at the site of a biopsy. You can also get disfigurement at the skin at the site of a biopsy, as well as, the anxiety of waiting for a final diagnosis whether it's cancer or not," Logan said on Wednesday.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends:

  • Women between the ages of 50 to 69 have a mammogram every two years.
  • Women between the ages of 40 to 49 should discuss the risks of developing breast cancer with their physician along with the risks and benefits of mammography. Women over the age of 40 should be screened every two years by a physician.
  • Women 70 or older should consult their doctor about screening programs.

For years, women were encouraged to perform regular BSE at the same time each month with many cancer survivors crediting BSE as an empowering life-saving tool.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute stated self-exams increased the rate of unnecessary benign breast biopsies, adding to health care costs.

The study, which ran for almost 11 years, determined there was no difference in breast cancer mortality rates between the BSE and the control groups. There was also little evidence that women in the BSE group were able to detect cancer earlier.

Breast cancer death rates among women have fallen by 25 per cent since 1986 and more women are living longer after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Current evidence shows that organized screening with mammography and clinical breast examination -- the most reliable methods of finding breast cancer -- have contributed to the declining death rates.

According to the CCS, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in women.

An estimated 22,300 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada in 2007 with approximately 5,300 of those women dying from the disease.