New research has found that mammograms may actually increase the risk of developing breast cancer in some women. The increased risks were seen in younger women whose genes place them at increased risk of breast cancer – the added radiation from mammograms and other chest radiation testing might be more harmful. Researchers suggest that a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is a likely safer screening for women under the age of 30 who are at increased risk for the disease because of gene mutations. The research appears in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Women with BRCA Mutations who reside in Britain, the Netherlands and Spain are advised to receive MRI’s not mammograms before aged 30. The research did not prove however a radiation- breast cancer link but it is one of the largest studies of its kind to review the issue. It is not the first time that research has suggested such a link. Dutch researchers previously concluded that the low-radiation emitted from mammograms and chest x-rays might increase breast cancers risks in susceptible young women. MRIs do not involve radiation.
Typically, mammograms are used in women over the age of 40 unless the woman is at an increased risk and carries a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. These mutations raise risks for developing cancer 5-fold and about 1 in 400 women have one of these abnormalities, which is more typically seen in eastern European/Jewish populations. While breast cancer screening tests have saved lives and proven beneficial for women aged 50 and over and who have an average breast cancer risk experts are split about the value of such tests in younger women.
Some research suggests that women with gene mutations could have increased sensitivity to radiation because the genes involved are also involved in correcting DNA problems. If those genes become damaged by radiation, they might be unable to correctly repair DNA which might raise risks for cancer.
Research found that women with a history of chest radiation in their 20s had a 43% increased risk of breast cancer versus women who received no chest radiation. Exposure before aged 20 increased the risk to 52% and radiation received after age 30 appeared to have no effect on the risk.