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Early Mammograms May Trigger Genetic Breast Cancer

Sunday, February 08, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: mammograms, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) 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.

That's because mammography screening would have to reduce breast cancer mortality by 51 percent to outweigh the risks of the screening procedured for women between the ages of 24 and 29, by 12 percent for those between 30 and 34, and by 4 percent for those between 30 and 34. If their assumptions are right, the researchers conclude there is no benefit for mammograms in women under the age of 30 and only a marginal benefit for women between the ages of 30 and 34.

"In the absence of direct empirical data, our estimates can be used by those involved in the decision-making process for BRCA mutation carriers to assess whether the benefits from early mammographic screening are likely to outweigh the radiation risks," the researchers said in a statement to the media.

The idea that radiation might be harmful to women with this type of genetic breast cancer isn't new. Back in 2001, an article in Medscape, an on-line journal for physicians and other healthcare professionals, stated ".. it is very likely that a routine mammogram for women with BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutations is more dangerous than for women with normal BRCA genes." What's more, the article points out that radiation therapy for BRCA-caused cancer, as well as the radiation from mammograms , may cause the malignancy to spread: "When a new tumor does appear in hereditary breast cancer, it may be a second primary (tumor) accelerated by unrepaired radiation damage while diagnosing or curing the first tumor."

It's also important to note that other researchers have questioned whether all women -- not only those with hereditary breast cancer -- are putting themselves at risk with yearly mammograms. For example, research published last fall showed that breast cancer rates soared after regular mammography was started in four Norwegian countries ( https://www.naturalnews.com/024901.html). In addition, Samuel S. Epstein M.D., Professor Emeritus of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and his colleagues conducted a review of 47 scientific articles about mammography. Their article, "Dangers and Unreliability of Mammography: Breast Examination is a Safe, Effective, and Practical Alternative", published in the International Journal of Health Services (2001;31(3):605-15) concluded that mammogram screening carries many dangers, including induction and promotion of breast cancer, falsely positive and negative diagnosis of breast cancer, and over-diagnosis.

The researchers noted that a natural way to check for breast cancer has long been available that is at least as effective as mammography -- annual clinical breast examination (CBE) by a trained health professional, together with monthly breast self-examination (BSE). On the horizon: a new non-invasive breast cancer test that uses a simple saliva sample (https://www.naturalnews.com/022774.html).

For more information on possible health risks associated with mammography:

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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