Women with a family history of breast cancer under the age of 50 could benefit from yearly mammograms, more cancers are likely to be spotted and more lives could be saved, British researchers wrote in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal. Women with relatives who had/have breast cancer have a significantly higher chance of developing it themselves, especially if some of those relatives developed the disease early (before 50 years of age).
Experts have suggested that women with a breast cancer family history would benefit from regular mammograms, as well as starting them off at an earlier age than that recommended by UK authorities. In the UK women are advised to have one screening every three years from 50 to 70 years of age.
In The Family History 01 (FH01) study, researchers set out to assess what impact annual mammographies might have on disease state at presentation and risk of death for younger women (under 50) with a significant family history of breast cancer.
The study involved 6,710 women in 76 centers throughout the United Kingdom with intermediate familial risk of breast cancer. They received an annual mammography for approximately 4 years. Details were documented regarding size, node status and histological grade of tumors, as well as risk of death within ten years of diagnosis. This data was then compared to data from two other groups of women who had not been screened, one from the UK Age Trial and the other from a Dutch study of females with a breast cancer family history.
The tumors in the Yearly Mammography Group were much smaller, with a lower chance of being node positive, and of a more favourable grade compared to the UK Age Trial group. There was a considerably smaller chance of tumors being node positive in the regular Yearly Mammography Group than those in the Dutch Study.
The authors wrote:
- "Tumour size, node status, and grade are highly predictive of future death from breast cancer, and we showed that these characteristics were significantly more favourable in tumours in the FH01 cohort than were those in the two independent comparison groups."
In the UK Age Trial, 0.56 deaths were prevented per 10,000 screenings over a 7 to 9 year period, compared to 2 prevented deaths per 10,000 screenings if high risk women were tested earlier and every year, the authors added.
The researchers concluded:
- "Our data suggest that, in women younger than 50 years who are at medium or greater familial risk of breast cancer, mammographic surveillance could increase cancer detection, reduce the risk of advanced stage disease, and decrease predicted mortality."
Professor Stephen Duffy et al
The Lancet Oncology, Early Online Publication, 18 November 2010
Written by Christian Nordqvist