Women's College Research Institute

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Study sheds light on mammography exposure and breast cancer risk

April 2015

mammography exposureWomen who carry a deleterious genetic mutation in their BRCA genes have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. But clinicians try to manage this risk by recommending annual mammography to these women when they are over the age of 30.

Vasily Giannakeas, a Master’s student working with Dr. Steven Narod, recently explored whether mammography — which exposes patients to low doses of ionizing radiation — could itself increase breast cancer risk in BRCA mutation carriers.

“Frequent and early age ionizing radiation exposure has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in women,” says Vasily. “Our study allowed us to consider the possibility that women with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, who undergo more routine and early age mammography screening, may be at an even higher risk of developing breast cancer.”

The study — the first of its kind — included more than 2,000 women who had a BRCA mutation but no breast cancer. Vasily reviewed these women’s history of mammography exposure and followed them for an average of more than five years to determine if they developed breast cancer.

“Our findings showed no association between mammography and breast cancer among women with BRCA mutations,” says Vasily. “These findings are important because they suggest that these women should not be discouraged from having routine mammograms on the basis of radiation exposure.”

The study was published in the Breast Cancer Research and Treatment journal.

Vasily notes, however, that further research should be done on higher levels of radiation exposure and breast cancer risk in these women.

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