Category Archives: Breast Cancer

The Evidence Behind Clinical and Self-Breast Exams

January 30th, 2024

For many women monthly self-breast exams have long been considered an essential part of their health routine, alongside maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise. However, conflicting advice from healthcare professionals over the years has left women of all ages feeling uncertain about whether they should continue this practice.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women at average risk for breast cancer should not feel obligated to learn how to perform self-breast exams. This recommendation echoed the guidance provided by the American Cancer Society in 2003. The task force, an independent panel of national experts in disease prevention, reaffirmed this recommendation in their updated 2016 review of breast cancer screening.

These recommendations were based on extensive studies conducted in 2003, which revealed no significant benefits to self-exams. In fact, the studies highlighted potential harm caused by unnecessary biopsies and a false sense of security when small lumps go undetected, leading women to forgo mammograms. This comes from two population-based studies conducted in Russia and China, involving nearly 400,000 women found no evidence that self-exams reduce breast cancer deaths. In fact, the findings, suggested that self-examinations had no significant impact on survival rates and may even lead to unnecessary biopsies. The group that performed self-exams underwent 3,406 biopsies, compared to 1,856 in the group that did not perform exams. And, there was no significant differences in breast cancer deaths were observed between the two groups.

Breast self-exams have more benefits for women at higher risk for breast cancer, such as those with a strong family history of the disease, previous benign biopsy results, or genetic mutations such as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.  Those women are encouraged to visually examine their breasts monthly and undergo annual breast imaging studies starting at age 30 or even earlier. Additionally, women at higher risk may choose to have clinical breast exams between their yearly mammograms, ultrasounds, or MRI screenings, depending on their individual cancer risk. Factors that put women at higher risk include hormone replacement therapy, being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol.

Still it is important to note that even having a clinical breast exam should be part of a shared, informed decision with your doctor. While the American College of Obstetricians and National Comprehensive Cancer Care Network recommend that women at high risk for breast cancer receive a clinical breast exam yearly and women who are low risk receive a clinical breast exam every three years the American Cancer Society does not recommend patients receive clinical breast exams as they may lead to false reassurance or unnecessary testing.

For women who still prefer to conduct self-exams, it is recommended to learn the proper technique from a healthcare professional. Most physicians, keep synthetic breast models on hand to provide hands-on lessons to patients who request assistance. Regardless of your decision regarding self-exams, it is crucial to regularly visit your healthcare provider to discuss all cancer and health screenings.

Breast cancer prevention, screening, and management are becoming more individualized and it is important that informed decisions are being made through a shared decision model with your doctor. Thus, it is crucial to be aware how these lifestyle choices affect your risk of breast cancer and to talk to your doctor about the need and frequency of breast cancer screening. Physicians also recommend seeking guidance from a nutritionist, participating in exercise classes, and in some cases, consulting with a genetic counselor to determine breast cancer risk.

US Mammogram Update Sparks Concern, Reignites Debates

Kerry Dooley Young, Medcape, July 19, 2023

A recent update to the US recommendations for breast cancer screening is raising concerns about the costs associated with potential follow-up tests, while also renewing debates about the timing of these tests and the screening approaches used.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is currently finalizing an update to its recommendations on breast cancer screening. In May, the task force released a proposed update that dropped the initial age for routine mammogram screening from 50 to 40.

The task force intends to give a “B” rating to this recommendation, which covers screening every other year up to age 74 for women deemed average risk for breast cancer.

The task force’s rating carries clout, A. Mark Fendrick, MD, director of the Value-Based Insurance Design (V-BID) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, told Medscape.

For one, the Affordable Care Act requires that private insurers cover services that get top A or B marks from USPSTF without charging copays.

However, Fendrick noted, such coverage does not necessarily apply to follow-up testing when a routine mammogram comes back with a positive finding. The expense of follow-up testing may deter some women from seeking follow-up diagnostic imaging or biopsies after an abnormal result on a screening mammogram.

recent analysis in JAMA Network Open found that women facing higher anticipated out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer diagnostic tests, based on their health insurance plan, were less likely to get that follow-up screening. For instance, the use of breast MRI decreased by nearly 24% between patients undergoing subsequent diagnostic testing in plans with the lowest out-of-pocket costs vs those with the highest.


The Ongoing Debates

Concerns over the costs of potential follow-up tests are not the only issues experts have highlighted since USPSTF released its updated draft guidance on screening mammography.

The task force’s proposed update has also reignited questions and uncertainties surrounding when to screen, how often, and what types are best.

When it comes to frequency, the major organizations that provide screening guidance don’t see eye to eye. The USPSTF recommends breast cancer screening every other year, while the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommends screening every year because that approach leads to saves “the most lives.”

At this time, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidance currently teeters in the middle, suggesting either annual or biennial screening and highlighting the pros and cons of either approach. According to ACOG, “annual screening intervals appear to result in the least number of breast cancer deaths, particularly in younger women, but at the cost of additional callbacks and biopsies.”

When to begin screening represents another point of contention. While some experts, such as ACOG, agree with the task force’s decision to lower the screening start age to 40, others point to the need for greater nuance on setting the appropriate screening age. The main issue: the task force’s draft sets a uniform age to begin screening, but the risk for breast cancer and breast cancer mortality is not uniform across different racial and ethnic groups.

recent study published in JAMA Network Open found that, among women aged 40 to 49, breast cancer mortality was highest among Black women (27 deaths per 100,000 person-years) followed by White women (15 deaths per 100,000 person-years). Based on a recommended screening age of 50, the authors suggested that Black women should start screening at age 42, whereas White women could start at 51.

“These findings suggest that health policy makers and clinicians could consider an alternative, race and ethnicity–adapted approach in which Black female patients start screening earlier,” write Tianhui Chen, PhD, of China’s Zhejiang Cancer Hospital and co-authors of the study.

Weighing in on the guidance, the nonprofit National Center for Health Research urged the task force to consider suggesting different screening schedules based on race and ethnicity data. That would mean the recommendation to start at age 40 should only apply to Black women and other groups with higher-than-average risk for breast cancer at a younger age.

“Women are capable of understanding why the age to start mammography screening may be different for women with different risk factors,” the National Center for Health Research wrote in a comment to USPSTF, provided to Medscape by request. “What is confusing is when some physician groups recommend annual mammograms for all women starting at age 40, even though the data do not support that recommendation.”

While the ACR agreed with the task force’s recommendation to lower the screening age, the organization suggested starting risk assessments based on racial variations in breast cancer incidence and death even earlier. Specifically, the ACR recommended that high-risk groups, such as Black women, get risk assessments by age 25 to determine whether mammography before age 40 is needed.

  Screening options for women with dense breasts may be some of the most challenging to weigh. Having dense breasts increases an individual’s risk for breast cancer, and mammography alone is not as effective at identifying breast cancer among these women. However, the evidence on the benefits vs harms of additional screening beyond mammography remains mixed.

As a result, the task force decided to maintain its “I” grade on additional screening beyond mammography for these women — a grade that indicates insufficient evidence to determine the benefits and harms for a service.

The task force largely based its decision on the findings of two key reports. One report from the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, which modeled potential outcomes of different screening strategies, indicated that extra screening might reduce breast cancer mortality in those with dense breasts, but at a cost of more false-positive reports.

The second report, a review from the Kaiser Permanente Evidence-based Practice Center, reaffirmed the benefits of routine mammography for reducing deaths from breast cancer, but found no solid evidence that different strategies — including supplemental screening in women with denser breasts — lowered breast cancer mortality or the risk of progression to advanced cancer. Further studies may show which approaches work best to reduce breast cancer deaths, the report said.

In this instance, ACOG agreed with USPSTF: “Based on the lack of data, ACOG does not recommend routine use of alternative or adjunctive tests to screening mammography in women with dense breasts who are asymptomatic and have no additional risk factors.”

Women with dense breasts should still be encouraged to receive regular screening mammography, even if the results they get may not be as accurate as those for women with less dense breasts, said Diana L. Miglioretti, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, who worked on a report for the USPSTF guidelines.

What’s Next?

Despite ongoing debate and uncertainties surrounding some breast screening guidance, support for ending copay requirements for follow-up tests after a positive mammogram finding is widespread.


When the USPSTF finalizes its breast screening guidelines, the recommendations will be woven into discussions between primary care physicians and patients about breast cancer screening.

To read the entire article, click here.

NCHR Comments on USPSTF Draft Recommendation on Breast Cancer Screening

June 6, 2023

We are pleased to have the opportunity to express our views regarding the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Draft Recommendation Statement regarding breast cancer screening.

The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research on a range of health issues, with a particular focus on which prevention strategies and treatments are most effective for which patients and consumers. We do not accept funding from companies that make products that are the subject of our work, so we have no conflicts of interest.

While we support the task’s draft recommendation that women who are at average risk of breast cancer should undergo a screening every other year rather than annually, we are concerned that the task force’s recommendation of lowering the age of screening mammography from 50 years old to 40 years old is broadly applied to all women, rather than directed at groups most at risk. The guidelines are only supposed to be regarding women of average risk of breast cancer, and information is widely available to indicate some women are at higher risk because of genetic predispositions, smoking, obesity, family history, and other factors.  Dense breasts are also a risk factor, but unfortunately breast density also makes mammography less accurate[1] and tends to be especially high for women under the age of 50[2].

It is especially important to note that the most recent research, which may post-date the writing of these draft recommendations, had findings that suggested that Black females should start screening approximately 8 years earlier than White women, and that Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islander females could start even later[3]. For that reason, we urge the USPSTF to consider whether the recommendation to start at age 40 should only apply to Black women and to other women who also have higher than average risk of breast cancer at a younger age, whereas starting at age 50 or even later is scientifically supported for other racial/ethnic groups that have been studied.

We agree with the USPSTF that there is not enough evidence to recommend screening mammography for women 75 years old or older.

We also agree that biennial mammogram screening has benefits that outweigh the risks for most women between the ages of 50-74 and for women at high risk between the ages of 40-50, there is currently insufficient evidence that using additional screening tools, such as using an MRI following a screening mammogram, is beneficial even for women with dense breasts, unless a diagnosis is needed when abnormalities are shown during the mammogram.

We understand that the USPSTF may be reluctant to suggest different screening schedules for Black women or for any specific group of women, but we urge the Task Force to focus on the scientific data. In this case, that includes different recommendations based on race and ethnicity data. Women are capable of understanding why the age to start mammography screening may be different for women with different risk factors. What is confusing is when some physician groups recommend annual mammograms for all women starting at age 40, even though the data do not support that recommendation. USPSTF should not compromise its standards to be more similar to those recommendations.

NCHR is grateful for the opportunity to comment on this USPSTF draft recommendation. The National Center for Health Research can be reached at or (202) 223-4000.



1) Kolb TM, Lichy J, Newhouse JH. Comparison of the performance of screening mammography, physical examination, and breast US and evaluation of factors that influence them: an analysis of 27,825 patient evaluations. Radiology. 2002 Oct;225(1):165-75. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2251011667. PMID: 12355001.

2) Barrette, Lori, Breast Density: What Women Should Know” University of Rochester Medical Center. 15 October 2015. <>

3) Chen T, Kharazmi E, Fallah M. Race and Ethnicity–Adjusted Age Recommendation for Initiating Breast Cancer Screening. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(4):e238893. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.8893

Statement of Dr. Diana Zuckerman, President, National Center for Health Research, March 8, 2023

Today the FDA announced that 19 women were reported in medical publications who developed squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in the capsule around breast implants. This is more than the 10 women that FDA reported in September. Several of the women died.  It is important to know that 24 cases of SCC have been reported to the FDA, but it is not known if these cases overlap with the 19 that were published or if some of the 24 cases were reported more than once. Some of the women had silicone gel implants, some had saline implants, some textured, some smooth.  Some of the women got breast implants for augmentation, others for reconstruction after mastectomy.  That means that all women with breast implants need to be aware of this risk, even though it may be rare.

Last September, the FDA also reported 12 cases of lymphomas different from anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) that were also caused by breast implants.  The agency has not updated those numbers.

Breast Implant Illness: What’s the Evidence?

Debate swirls over the risks of breast implants, and physicians and patients are justifiably confused by the conflicting information available.  Despite surgeons’ claims that implants are proven safe, tens of thousands of women with breast implants have reported that they have serious symptoms that they refer to as “breast implant illness.”  Many women with these symptoms report that they recovered when their implants are removed.  Our report finds clear scientific evidence that implants increase the chances of those symptoms and removing implants usually improves’ their health. Women considering breast implants after mastectomy or for cosmetic reasons will want to know about our report.


She’s the reason Arizona has a law requiring surgeons to warn patients about the dangers of breast implants

Bianca Buono and Katie Wilcox, Arizona News 12 NBC: February 22, 2022

PHOENIX — Migraines. Headaches. Insomnia. Difficulty breathing. Trouble swallowing.

Robyn Towt survived three bouts with cancer. But it was breast implants that made her the sickest.

“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me,” Towt said.

At first, it was a mystery. She had recently survived breast cancer then had a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction. The cancer was gone, so why was she feeling so badly?

“My entire team of doctors failed me,” Towt said.

Towt said her team of doctors never mentioned that her breast implants could cause those side effects. She started doing her own research, desperate to figure out why she was feeling this way.


Undisclosed risks

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, has been outspoken about the dangers of implants for years.

“One of the things that’s been so tragic for all these years is how many women got sicker and sicker and sicker, year after year after year, going to doctors saying what’s wrong with me and the doctor saying, you know, I don’t know, do these tests and try to figure it out,” Zuckerman said.

“And then they finally discover on social media, that there are tens of thousands of women with exactly the same health problems they have, who also happen to have breast implants, and then they get their implants out, and they get better.”

Zuckerman has been pushing for acknowledgment from the FDA that breast implant illness exists, advocating for more research around what exactly causes it and pushing for transparency when it comes to the risks.

She says the FDA took a step in the right direction last year when the agency announced breast implants would be equipped with a black box warning.

The FDA boxed warning informs patients of the following:

  • Breast implants are not considered lifetime devices
  • The chance of developing complications increases over time
  • Some complications will require more surgery
  • Breast implants have been associated with the development of a cancer of the immune system called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)
  •  BIA-ALCL occurs more commonly in patients with textured breast implants than smooth implants, and deaths have occurred from BIA-ALCL
  • Breast implants have been associated with systemic symptoms

“They’re going to have what’s called a black box warning, that’s like the kind of warning you see on cigarette packages that tell you cigarettes can kill you,” Zuckerman said.

Arizona’s first-of-its-kind bill

Even still, that warning wasn’t always relayed by plastic surgeons to patients. That’s why lawmakers in Arizona decided to take matters into their own hands.

“We have to do something,” said state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.

Consultations for breast augmentations look different now in Arizona than they did a year ago.

That’s because a first-of-its-kind bill has passed in Arizona created to protect women against a badly kept secret involving breast augmentation surgery: breast implant illness.

“I was shocked to learn that there were so many women with very very similar stories and experiences. And yet there was nothing being done from the medical community’s perspective and point of view,” Ugenti-Rita said.


To read the entire article click here.

Statement on Keytruda for Early Stage Triple Negative Breast Cancer

February 9, 2021

The National Center for Health Research is a nonprofit think tank that scrutinizes the safety and effectiveness of medical products.  We don’t accept funding from companies that make those products, so we have no conflicts of interest.  We welcome the opportunity to provide our views on Merck’s application for approval of Keytruda for the indication of high-risk early stage triple negative breast cancer.

Triple negative breast cancer has a lower survival rate than other breast cancers.  However, chemotherapy clearly improves 5-year survival.  Patients need additional treatment options but the bottom line for patients is that FDA should not approve an indication that is not proven to have clinically meaningful benefits, especially when the treatment has clear risks.   

The first issue to address is whether there is evidence that immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) are effective for TNBC.  We agree with FDA scientists that “there is still uncertainty regarding ICIs for TNBC” based on the results from several clinical trials.

  • KEYNOTE-119 failed to meet its primary OS endpoint. 
  • KEYNOTE-355 has not met its OS endpoint. 
  • IMpassion130: clinical benefits need to be confirmed
  • IMpassion131 interim OS results favored control group

The second major issue pertains to pCR data in the study.  The results indicate only 7.5% improvement in pCRs at IA3 (the most recent interim analysis), which the FDA scientists point out may not be clinically meaningful even if statistically significant.  We agree.  The problem is that it is impossible to determine how this slight improvement would affect overall survival, and even if it does, how much neoadjuvant and adjuvant use each contribute to any benefit. 

FDA scientists were clear to the sponsor that there were concerns with their study design and that the application for approval was premature since the study was not yet completed.  The agency made it clear that that the event free survival (EFS) study results were not statistically significant, not clinically meaningful, and did not show a “stable trend.” 

FDA reviewers are clear that data on overall survival “are too immature to provide a conclusive interpretation regarding the difference in OS between treatment arms.” 

What about safety?

At IA3 (the most recent interim analysis), there were 96 deaths, which FDA points out “accounts for only 32% of the events needed for the final analysis. Therefore, the OS estimate may be unreliable, and the treatment effect size reported is subject to uncertainty.”

It is notable that the study included patient-reported outcomes (PROs), but unfortunately, KEYNOTE-522 was not designed to compare differences in PROs (symptoms, side effects, health-related quality of life), nor were these patient-reported endpoints prospectively identified and statistically tested. 

PRO assessments should have been more frequent, both for neoadjuvant and adjuvant treatments

Since many high-risk, early-stage TNBC patients will be cured with standard therapy, the key issue is whether this drug has benefits that outweigh the risks.  The benefits are unclear.  Therefore, the evidence of the drug’s “added toxicity” is worrisome.  FDA scientists concluded that “Some of these toxicities may be irreversible or require lifelong medication in patients cured of their breast cancer.

Although the sponsor counted 2 deaths due to immune-mediated adverse events, the FDA counted 4.  Either way, these deaths must be considered worrisome given the lack of clear evidence of a meaningful benefit.  And, there are many other serious adverse events in addition to the small number of deaths.   All-grade and grade ≥3 immune-mediated AEs and infusion reactions occurred more frequently in Keytruda patients compared to placebo:    43% vs. 22% for all grade AEs, and 15% vs. 2% for high grade AEs.  In fact, 10% of Keytruda patients had immune-mediated AEs and infusion reactions leading to hospitalization compared to 1% of placebo.  These included the following relatively high number of adverse events:

  • Infusion reactions (18%), 
  • Hypothyroidism (15%), 
  • Severe skin reactions (6%)
  • Hyperthyroidism (5%), adrenal insufficiency (3%), pneumonitis (2%), and thyroiditis (2%).

It is important to note that these adverse events were not resolved at the last assessment in the study for 19% of Keytruda patients.   It is also important to note that 16% of the Keytruda patients initiated thyroid hormone replacement during the study.

In summary, we agree with FDA scientists that the deaths are “particularly concerning in this curative disease setting.”

  • “All grade and grade ≥3 immune-mediated AEs were increased in [Keytruda] patients.’
  • Some “may be severe or lifelong.” 
  • The adjuvant treatment has fewer adverse events but “has not demonstrated a significant effect on any efficacy endpoint, and may be adding risk without benefit.”

Based on our analysis, we agree with the overall conclusions made by FDA scientists: 

  1. Neoadjuvant Keytruda “confers only a small absolute improvement in pCR rate of questionable clinical meaningfulness.
  2. Event-free survival and overall survival are “immature and unreliable.”
  3.  “The design and results of KEYNOTE-522 do not currently support a role for adjuvant [Keytruda].”
  4. Supportive data of clinical benefit … are lacking.” 
  5. Adding Keytruda “is associated with increased toxicity … which may be severe, irreversible, and/or require life-long medication in potentially curable and otherwise healthy patients.” 

In conclusion, the FDA and the medical community do patients no favors to approve a treatment that is not proven to benefit them and at the same time is proven to cause harm for a substantial percentage of patients.  The studies should be continued to determine whether the benefit of adding Keytruda to other treatments outweigh the risks.


This written statement was submitted to the FDA on February 8, 2021 and an oral version with PowerPoint slides was presented at the FDA Advisory Committee meeting on February 9, 2021.

We are pleased that the FDA Advisory Committee agreed with our views and voted 10-0 on February 9 in favor of deferring an FDA regulatory decision until the study is completed.

Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Therapy

Keris KrennHrubec, Meg Seymour, & Diana Zuckerman, PhD

To avoid the risks of conventional hormone therapy, more and more women are seeking alternatives. But how safe are compounded bioidentical hormones?

When women enter menopause, their bodies produce less estrogen and progesterone. This can cause hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and other symptoms. Hormone therapy can supplement those hormones, but it increases the risk of breast cancer and other serious diseases. What are your options if the symptoms of menopause are difficult to cope with?

In 2002, a major research study reported that FDA-approved hormone therapy can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke. (For more information, please visit: Hormone Therapy and Menopause). As a result, women started to look for alternatives to conventional hormone therapy. Custom-compounded bioidentical hormone therapy (CBHT) has been marketed as more natural and safer, but does the scientific evidence support those claims?

Natural and Safe?

Many of the hormones used in conventional hormone therapy are derived from animal products. Bioidentical hormones, on the other hand, are from plants and are more similar (although not necessarily identical) to the hormones that naturally occur in the human body. However, the term “bioidentical” is misleading and has no scientific value. Bioidenticals are created in laboratories through at least 15 chemical reactions, and they are not identical to hormones produced by human bodies.[1,2] To date, no studies have shown that bioidenticals are safer than conventional hormone therapy and experts used to assume they have similar benefits and risks for patients.[3,4]

The FDA asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to form a committee that would assess whether cBHT is an adequate substitute for the traditional therapies that are FDA-approved. In 2020, the committee issued a report that there was not sufficient data to say that cBHT is a safe and effective treatment for menopause. Although some people have reported anecdotal claims that cBHT is safe and effective, these anecdotes are not scientific data.[5] 

The Pros and Cons of Compounding

Some bioidentical hormones (such as small particles of progesterone and estradiol) have been approved by the FDA,[1] but most are not. Instead, they are prescribed as a compound with ingredients that are mixed and blended by pharmacies to “create a customized medication for an individual patient”.[6,7] Since compounding is used to make individualized medication, it is not approved by the FDA. Compounding of some medications is necessary for some patients, such as patients who are allergic to one component of an approved drug or who need a particular dosage that differs from the FDA-approved medicine. However, since it is not monitored the way an FDA-approved drug is, compounded drugs are not proven to be safe or effective.[7]

Women who are considering compounded bioidentical hormones often start by getting their individual hormone levels checked through saliva or serum tests. This may create the impression that the bioidentical drugs will be customized for each patient, but research has not shown that these hormonal tests are meaningful or can ensure a safe or effective product.[1,3]

Risks Through Compounding

In addition to not being approved by the FDA as safe or effective, compounded drugs have an additional risk of being contaminated [3] or having an inaccurate dosage.[6] Either can be dangerous. Since compounded drugs are not FDA-approved, they also lack warnings on labels about possible side effects, including serious ones.[1,8] Several of the ingredients that are commonly used in bioidentical hormones – such as testosterone – have not been approved by the FDA for use for postmenopausal women.[3]

Despite these concerns, many women have been prescribed bioidentical hormones for menopause. That’s why the FDA announced in 2018 that they will expand research on compounded bioidentical hormone therapy.[9]

How Do I Know If My Hormone Therapy Has Been Compounded?

Compounded bioidentical drugs are legal if they are in response to a doctor’s prescription.[7] It is unlawful for a pharmacy to simply give you modified drugs without consent. However, even if it is legal, that doesn’t mean it will be safe or effective. If you have any questions or concerns about your hormone therapy, you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist.[10]

You can recognize FDA-approved hormone therapy by the use of brand names such as Premarin, Vagifem and Estrace. The bioidenticals micronized progesterone (brand name Prometrium) and estradiol (brand name Vivelle) have also been approved by the FDA. If your medication has been compounded, you will see terms such as estrone, estradiol, testosterone or progesterone instead of brand names. You are probably receiving CBHT if you have been asked for a saliva or serum test to establish an individualized treatment course.[1,2]

Traditional hormone therapy can be effective for menopausal symptoms, but can increase the risk of cancer and other serious diseases. Bioidentical hormones may have the same risks. You can find more information on the FDA-approved hormone therapies here.


All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

  1. American College of Obstetricians. (2012). Compounded bioidentical menopausal hormone therapy. Fertility and Sterility, 98(2), 308-312. (reaffirmed in 2018)
  2. Gass, M. L., Stuenkel, C. A., Utian, W. H., LaCroix, A., Liu, J. H., & Shifren, J. L. (2015). Use of compounded hormone therapy in the United States: report of the North American Menopause Society Survey. Menopause, 22(12), 1276-1285.
  3. Pinkerton, J. V., & Pickar, J. H. (2016). Update on medical and regulatory issues pertaining to compounded and FDA-approved drugs, including hormone therapy. Menopause (New York, NY), 23(2), 215.
  4. National Institute on Aging. (June 2017). Hot Flashes: What Can I Do? Retrieved from:
  5. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (July 2020). Report: The Clinical Utility of Compounded Bioidentical Hormone Therapy (cBHT) A Review of Safety, Effectiveness, and Use. Retrieved from:
  6. FDA (June 2018). Report: Limited FDA Survey of Compounded Drug Products. Retrieved from:
  7. FDA (June 2018). Compounding and the FDA: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from:
  8. FDA (June 2018). Compounding Oversight. Retrieved from:
  9. FDA (September 2018). FDA announces new and expanded compounding research projects. Retrieved from:
  10. FDA (February 2018). Menopause: Medicines to Help You. Retrieved from:

FDA considers black box warning for all breast implants

Mariel Carbone, WCPO Cincinnati: February 09, 2020

Although many other survivors choose implants after their mastectomies, [Lily McBreen is] adamant that she won’t. Having almost lost her life once, she’s worried the side effects of receiving breast implants could endanger it again.


“I wanted to avoid the rheumatological symptoms that have been out in the news for so many decades,” she said. “There has been so many accounts of women complaining of problems with them.”

Those symptoms, which women are calling “breast implant illness,” are among the many reasons the United States Food and Drug Administration could soon take extreme measures when it comes to educating the public about implants.


Currently, the black box warning exists only as a draft while the FDA continues to consider its implementation.

The draft warning outlines three main concerns.

First, “breast implants are not considered life time devices” and women may require more surgery if complications occur.

It also states that implants have been associated with BIA-ALCL.


Finally, it describes how some patients have reported a variety of symptoms, including “joint paint, muscle aches, confusion, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease and others.”

The FDA is also proposing a patient decision checklist, which would include situations in which the device should not be used, considerations for a successful breast implant candidate, risks of surgery, the importance of using an appropriate physician, the risk of BIA-ALCL and other symptoms and discussion of other options.

Still, some have said these proposals don’t go far enough, including Diana Zuckerman who is President of the National Center for Health Research. The center initiated the Breast Implant Working Group, which is made up of six experts including patient advocates and plastic surgeons.

“The FDA’s draft Black Box warning is too vaguely worded on BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness, and includes jargon that will not be understood by all patients,” the working group said in a statement. “The FDA draft Black Box states that ‘breast implants have been associated with the development of a cancer of the immune system called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).’ Association implies correlation rather than causation. In fact, the evidence is clear that breast implants can cause BIA-ALCL.”

Read the original story here.

Should You Get a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (SLNB) for Stage Zero Breast Cancer (DCIS)?

Nina Zeldes, National Center for Health Research

Thanks to widespread use of screening mammography, there has been a dramatic increase in women diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most frequently diagnosed type of Stage Zero breast cancer. It accounts for 20-25% of new breast cancer cases diagnosed each year. DCIS is referred to as “stage zero breast cancer” or a “pre-cancer” because it is not invasive. It is almost always diagnosed on a mammogram, where it looks like white specks. DCIS rarely forms a lump, which is why it isn’t diagnosed by a breast exam. In DCIS, some of the cells lining the ducts (the parts of the breast that secrete milk) have developed abnormally, but since it is not invasive, it does not spread unless the DCIS changes into stage 1 breast cancer.

DCIS is not painful or dangerous and most women with DCIS will never develop invasive cancer whether they are treated or not. But DCIS can change into stage 1 breast cancer, and it is impossible to predict which women with DCIS will develop cancer and which ones won’t. That’s why treatment is recommended. Fortunately, only 3% of women treated for DCIS die of breast cancer within 20 years.

What are Your DCIS Treatment Options?

DCIS usually grows slowly. A patient can spend a few weeks after her diagnosis to talk with her doctors, learn the facts about her treatment choices, and think about what is important to her before she chooses which kind of treatment to have.

Treatment choices for DCIS are similar to those for invasive breast cancer. Most patients can choose fewer treatments with fewer side effects, but surgery to remove the DCIS is almost always recommended.

Most DCIS patients can choose a lumpectomy (which removes the DCIS but does not remove the entire breast). Radiation therapy and/or hormonal therapy are often recommended to reduce the chances of recurrence, although neither increases the already very good chances of survival.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsies for DCIS – Beneficial or Overtreatment?

Some DCIS patients that choose lumpectomy are encouraged to undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which removes a few lymph nodes from under the arm to check if cancer has spread there. However, since DCIS does not spread, experts generally do not recommend this procedure for patients diagnosed with DCIS.

Despite this, approximately one in four women diagnosed with DCIS currently undergo sentinel lymph node biopsies. Is this a good way to “be cautious” to prevent breast cancer in the future, or is it overtreatment?

To find out if there are any long-term benefits for women, Dr. Shiyi Wang and his colleagues at Yale University published a study in 2019[1] that looked at 5,957 women who were diagnosed with DCIS and had undergone a lumpectomy, and compared the women who had also undergone sentinel lymph node biopsies with those who had not.

They found that over the next 5.75 years, the biopsy did not:

  • decrease DCIS patients’ chances of undergoing mastectomy (removal of the breast)
  • decrease DCIS patients’ chances of developing invasive breast cancer
  • reduce the likelihood of a DCIS patient dying from breast cancer

At the same time, the study found that having the biopsy increased the risk for several serious side effects, such as pain, wound infection, and lymphedema. Lymphedema is a painful, chronic condition that can restrict a woman’s arm movements.

The researchers therefore concluded that there are no long-term benefits for undergoing sentinel lymph node biopsies for DCIS patients, and that the risks of complications should convince most DCIS patients and their physicians not to undergo the procedure.

The study was limited to older women (67-94) and did not control for risk factors such as obesity or using hormonal therapy such as aromatase inhibitors. For that reason, the results might not be relevant to younger women or women with a high-risk type of DCIS, which can be diagnosed prior to surgery. The possible impact of hormonal therapy or weight is unknown. However, the study has important implications for tens of thousands of women with the most common type of stage zero breast cancer (DCIS).

Bottom Line: Most women who receive a lumpectomy for DCIS (stage zero breast cancer) are being overtreated if they undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy. The most recent research shows that this procedure has no long-term benefits for most DCIS patients and can cause long-lasting pain and other problems.

Read more information about this study here. You can access the study by clicking on the following link: Long-Term Outcomes of Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy for Ductal Carcinoma in Situ.

For more information about surgery options for DCIS, see our free DCIS patient booklet. Find out if women with pre-cancers are getting mastectomies they don’t need here. You can also find some more general information about DCIS here. If you want to find out more about radiation therapy for DCIS click here. For more information about hormone therapy, for DCIS, click here.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff. 

  1. Hung, Peiyin, et al. “Long-Term Outcomes of Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy for Ductal Carcinoma in Situ.” JNCI Cancer Spectrum 3.4 (2019): pkz052.