Mammograms May Contribute to Breast Cancer Risk

Dec 16, 2009 by

Mammograms May Contribute to Breast Cancer Risk

Many parties, from doctors to the media and concerned family members, parrot the notion that mammograms help to detect breast cancer in women and thus help to “save lives”. Such assertions, however, fail badly at bringing attention to the other side of the coin – such diagnostic tests actually contribute to the development of cancer, too.

The following article reveals more. Women, please take heed.

Early Mammograms May Trigger Genetic Breast Cancer

by Sherry Baker

What if a diagnostic test actually triggers the life-threatening disease it is supposed to detect? According to a Johns Hopkins study just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, that may be exactly what happens when women at risk for genetic breast cancer are subjected to radiation exposure from annual mammograms.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 13.2 percent of women in the general U.S. population will develop breast cancer. But scientists have found that many women (especially those with a strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancers) have altered genes, identified as BRCA1 or BRCA2, which raise the risk of breast malignancies to around 85 percent. It’s important to note that women are not routinely screened for an altered BRCA gene and the test costs several thousands of dollars. So, bottom line, many women unknowingly carry this genetic risk for cancer.

Often, this hereditary form of breast cancer strikes at mid-life or younger — so young women who have been tested and are found to have the deleterious gene are frequently advised to have their healthy breasts removed to prevent the disease. At the very least, they are told to have annual mammograms as early as 25 years of age.

But when Amy Berrington de Gonzalez, D.Phil., and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, looked at breast cancer mortality statistics in this group of women following five annual mammograms starting at various ages, they found a disturbing trend: far more cases of breast cancer developed than were expected.

In fact, the study indicates that women who underwent five mammograms between the ages of 24 and 29 would have an additional 26 breast cancers per 10,000 women due to the radiation. Mammograms between the ages of 30 and 34 would produce an excess of 20 additional cancers and, between 35 and 39, an additional 13 cancers.

However, because women with the altered BRCA gene are at such high risk for breast cancer in the first place, does the hope of identifying early cancerous lesions outweigh the risk of possibly triggering mammography-induced breast cancer? The researchers say the answer appears to be no.

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