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Mammograms Risky For Some Women

Dec 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Mammograms

Researchers has concluded that the low-dose radiation emitted from mammograms and chest X-rays

A new study conducted by Dutch researchers has concluded that the low-dose radiation emitted from mammograms and chest X-rays might increase breast cancer risks in susceptible young women, reported Reuters. The researchers site family history or genetics as indicators for this demographic.

According the research team, the high-risk women, specifically younger women under the age of 30, might want seek alternative testing methods, suggesting magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in which there is no radiation exposure, said Reuters. "Our findings suggest that low-dose radiation increases breast cancer risk among these young, high-risk women, and a careful approach is warranted," said Marijke Jansen-van der Weide of the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, quoted Reuters.

"I should recommend to be careful with radiation before 30 and to think about alternatives," Jansen-van der Weide, added, according to Reuters, who noted that Jansen-van der Weide announced her findings at the Radiological Society of North America. Jansen-van der Weide looked at combined information from six published studies of 12,000 high-risk European and American women.

The study findings revealed that of the women, 8,500 who were exposed to mammogram or chest X-ray radiation prior to turning 20, or those who underwent at least five such exposures, experienced a 2.5 times increased risk of developing breast cancer versus high-risk women who did not experience the exposure, explained Reuters.

Results are only Applicable to Women at a higher risk of Developing Breast Cancer

The Daily News said that perhaps less might be better for higher risk women, citing the researchers presentation at Monday’s conference. Reuters noted that the results are only applicable to women at a higher risk of developing breast cancer; however, the findings can add to the confusion regarding mammography screening benefits and risks. For instance, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force—a federal advisory panel—issued a recommendation to women in their 40s against routine mammograms due to concern over the expense of additional testing, said Reuters.

Meanwhile, experts have been recommending yearly mammograms for women age 40 and older to screen and encourage early diagnosis of breast cancer. Now, breast cancer specialists are concerned that the new recommendation will confuse women and increase breast cancer deaths, said Reuters. The American Cancer Society, among other groups, said that very high risk women should undergo both an MRI and a mammogram; while MRIs are more sensitive than mammograms, false positives are more common with MRI testing, reported Reuters.

"We know that breast tissue is susceptible to the harmful effects of radiation when women are at a young age, and that this risk diminishes as women age," said Robert Smith, director of cancer screening from the American Cancer Society, regarding the Dutch study, in an email Reuters quoted. According to Smith, no one study has confirmed an increased risk of breast cancer linked to mammograms performed on average or high-risk women, said Reuters. Smith added, "For now, the unavoidable conclusion is that the benefits of early breast cancer detection in women at very high risk outweigh the low possibility of a radiation-induced breast cancer," quoted Reuters. The Dutch findings, while based on a small sampling did provide a “statistical significance,” noted Reuters, citing the researchers.

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