Mammograms Blamed Again as Culprits in Higher Breast Cancer Risk

young woman mammogramBreast cancer awareness campaigns being what they are today, we ladies are pretty well-versed on the ways we can prevent and detect breast cancer early on. We assume we'll get breast exams at our annual OB/GYN visit, and we figure annual mammograms and breast self-exams are in order -- at least, eventually -- too. Organizations out there reminding and encouraging us to stay on top of these screenings mean well. But they may actually be steering some women down a worrisome path.

Researchers in Europe say that young women who are at a high genetic risk of breast cancer may see an even greater risk from diagnostic scans -- like mammograms -- that expose them to chest radiation. Specifically, they found that for carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations who were under 30 years old, diagnostic use of radiation increased breast cancer risk by 90 percent! Uh, yeah, a number like that should give ALL of us pause.

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Of course this isn't the first time researchers have looked into this. In the past, BRCA1/2 carriers were said to have heightened radiosensitivity, but prior studies suggested higher thresholds for risk. New research, on the other hand, showed that the BRCA1/2 mutations impair the body's ability to fix double-strand breaks in DNA caused by ionizing radiation.

In short, the researchers say that this appears to be a major case for young women who are BRCA1/2 carriers to go with a different type of screening. They suggest non-ionizing radiation imaging techniques like MRI instead of a mammogram. Fair enough. In fact, the American Cancer Society already recommends annual MRI screenings for BRCA mutation carriers.

Still, I'm sure there will be those who have difficulty accepting this advice, because we've been told time and again that mammos are the best way to go. But clearly, they're not the best way to go for all women. Obviously, there's no one size fits all breast cancer prevention plan. And those who have special genetic considerations should be able to get the counseling they need on their lowest-risk screening alternatives.

Do you agree some women are better off choosing a different breast cancer screening technique over mammograms?


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