In disturbing news, an emerging study reveals that girls exposed to chest radiation have increased risks for developing breast cancer.
The study found that the increased likelihood was similar to risks seen in women with a genetic risk for the disease, said The Wall Street Journal. The research team looked at data from 1,268 women who survived childhood cancer and who were treated with radiation between 1970 and 1986. They found that by the time the women turned 50 years of age, 24% had been diagnosed with breast cancer, said The Journal. About 31% of women who carry a mutation in the BRCA1 gene—associated with an increased risk of the disease—are diagnosed with breast cancer by 50.
Dr. Chaya Moskowitz, a researcher at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the study’s lead author, pointed out that while prior studies linked childhood radiation therapy to a risk of breast cancer, it was not previously revealed that the risk “is remarkably similar” for women with a BRCA mutation, wrote The Journal. Dr. Moskowitz also noted that, for the most part, women are unaware of the high level of risk. Dr. Moskowitz presented the findings, today, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“These are rather striking data,” said Nicholas Vogelzang, a partner of Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada. Vogelzang, who was not involved in the study, said the study findings call for careful follow-up and attention to mammography and other breast cancer screenings, wrote The Journal.
Women treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma as children were in the highest risk group, said Dr. Moskowitz, who pointed out that 30% of the women in this group are diagnosed with breast cancer by age 50. Those women were also likeliest to have undergone full breast radiation, which is not currently used, noted the Journal. Women with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and other cancers, such as Wilm’s tumor and neuroblastoma, can also still be receiving significant radiation levels. “We still want to cure the childhood cancer,” Dr. Moskowitz said. “We want to maximize the cure while reducing” the amount of exposure as much as possible.
The team learned that risk was linked to exposure levels measured by a metric called “gray,” said The Journal. National Cancer Institute-sponsored Children’s Oncology Group guidelines suggest women exposed during childhood to 20 grays or more of radiation should begin regular annual checkups—which include mammography and breast MRI exams—by age 25. Women exposed to 10 – 19 grays are at significantly increased risk, versus the general population, and may benefit from similar screening protocols, Dr. Moskowitz added; however, these women are not covered by current guidelines.
Data indicates, said The Journal, about 50,000 women in the U.S. have been treated with 20 grays; another 9,000 have been exposed to 10 – 19 grays.
We recently wrote that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking new guidelines for the use of radiation-emitting medical imaging tests like X-rays and CT (computed tomography) scans to help reduce pediatric patient exposure to radiation.
Recent studies have suggested that use of radiation-emitting medical tests are used far too often, especially in the diagnosis of common conditions suffered by children. It’s likely the average child will receive at least 7 tests that emit radiation before they reach their 18th birthday. This puts them at a greater risk of suffering toxic radiation exposure, something that could impair their brain and body development and increase their risk of possibly developing cancer in the future, in addition to the newly discovered risks for cancer later in life.