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Mammography Radiation May Harm High-Risk Women

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 10:31 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Mammography, Breast Cancer, MRI, American Cancer Society

Mammography may do more than than good for young women a high-risk for breast cancer says a new study.

The Dangers of Radiation


IMAGE SOURCE: Breast Cancer Action logo from Web site

There is more confusing news about mammograms today.

For young women with a family history of breast cancer, annual mammograms may raise the risk of breast cancer.

The problem is the radiation. High doses can increase the risk of breast cancer. But women with a family history of breast cancer are just the women who doctors most often recommend receive annual scans.

The report was released at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America by author and epidemiologist Marijke C. Jansen-van der Weide from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.

"For women at high risk for breast cancer, screening is very important, but a careful approach should be taken when considering mammography for screening young women, particularly under age 30," said Dr. Jansen-van der Weide. "Further, repeated exposure to low-dose radiation should be avoided."

In the report, data was pooled on 50,000 high-risk women, with an average age of 45. Some of them had breast cancer and some did not.

The women exposed to radiation early in life, before the age of 20, and women with five or more exposures, were 2.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those women not exposed, reports the New York Times.

The differences were reported to be statistically significant and the results apply only to women with a high risk of breast cancer, which represents about 0.5 to 1 percent of the population.

Skeptics point out that mammograms use a low dose of radiation and this study of a small sample should be interpreted with caution. The findings do not apply to women at average risk.

The American Cancer Society is on record saying that the benefits outweigh the risks of mammography.

Dr. Jansen-van der Weide recommends young women reduce their risk by avoiding repeated exposure to even low-dose radiation, suggesting that the mutation that leads to breast cancer might make the body more susceptible to cancer caused by radiation.

“For high-risk women, it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks of mammography with their doctor and come together on a screening strategy, and to keep in mind that at a young age you can use an alternative screening technique like M.R.I.,” Dr. Jansen-van der Weide said.

The American Cancer Society suggests that for high risk women, an MRI be used in conjunction with mammography annually, typically beginning at age 30.

The ACS says there is strong evidence supporting the benefits of mammography for women after the age of 40.

Recent Recommendations

But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the group that sets government policy on prevention, said in November that that women in their 40s don’t need routine mammograms in a report published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why the turnabout? A survey of major studies reveals that mammograms produce false-positives in about 10 percent of cases. Upon hearing the news, doctors often recommend surgery, disfiguring biopsies, radiation, chemotherapy and a lot of anxiety.

The recommendations now state that women should have mammograms every other year beginning at age 50, not annually at age 40 as previously recommended, and that women over the age of 74 do not need to continue regular mammograms. Women with a family history of breast cancer should continue annual screenings. #

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