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Saturday 24th August 2019

Childhood radiation ups breast cancer risk

5th June 2012

Researchers in the United States say that women who received radiation treatment for cancer in childhood have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life.


According to Chaya Moskowitz, of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, women treated with radiation to the chest during childhood have a risk of developing breast cancer that is comparable to that of women who are carriers of the hereditary BRCA mutations, even if the radiation dose they received was quite low.

Moskowitz led a team which looked at data from more than 1,200 women who had previously been treated with radiation for childhood cancers.

Nearly a quarter of them had been diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 50, while 30% of women who had been treated with high doses of radiation for Hodgkin lymphoma went on to develop breast cancer.

This compares with women who carry a specific mutation in the BRCA1 gene, 31% of whom will have received a diagnosis of breast cancer by the time they are 50.

The rate of breast cancer is just 4% among the population as a whole.

Moskowitz said her study, which was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, is the first to show that the risk is comparable with that of carrying the BRCA1 gene mutation, although previous findings have indicated that childhood radiation treatment is linked to higher risk of breast cancer.

It has also elucidated the effects of even fairly low levels of radiation in the treatment of paediatric cancers, she said.

According to guidelines developed by the Institute's Children's Oncology Group, women who have received a radiation dose of 20 grays or more to the chest should start getting mammograms and breast MRI scans annually from the age of 25.

But Moskowitz's findings, which were presented at an annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, has shown that women who received much lower doses of 10-19 grays as children are also at a heightened risk and should also be offered such early screening.

Nicholas Vogelzang, of the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in Las Vegas and US Oncology, who did not take part in the study, said the data was "striking".

He said the medical profession had an obligation to the many thousands of young women it treated years ago, and that the study would boost awareness of their need for early screening programmes.

ASCO President Michael Link called on patients to empower themselves by bringing a summary of treatment they have received to their doctors.

The United States is currently home to nearly 12 million cancer survivors, compared with just three million in the 1970s.

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