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Breast Cancer Health Center

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X-Rays Studied for Breast Cancer Risk

Chest X-Rays May Raise Breast Cancer Risk in Women With Breast Cancer Gene Mutations

Interpreting the Results

The results show that the women who reported any chest X-rays were 54% more likely to have breast cancerbreast cancer, compared with those reporting no chest X-rays. That pattern was strongest for women up to 40 years old and those who reported having had chest X-rays before age 20.

Radiation exposure can raise the risk of cancercancer. X-rays typically use low levels of radiation that are generally considered to be safe.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations may be particularly vulnerable to radiation, write Andrieu and colleagues. However, they didn't check the women's medical records to confirm their X-ray history.

"These results must be interpreted with caution," note the researchers, who also don't know how much radiation the women received from the chest X-rays. Andrieu's team stresses that more detailed data, preferably from long-term studies, are needed before recommendations can be made.

Their study didn't address X-rays and breast cancer in women without the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

Second Opinion

The journal also includes an editorial by the University of Chicago's Angela Bradbury, MD, and Olufumilayo Olopade, MB, BS, FACP.

"The limitations of this report, including the imprecise measurement of radiation exposure and the potential for differential recall among participants, lessen the clinical relevance of the study," write Bradbury and Olopade.

"It is likely that the impact of radiation-associated breast cancer is small to nonexistent among women who begin standard mammographic screening at 40 years old, but we do not know if this is also the case for women at high genetic risk," they write.

If women at high genetic risk for breast cancer are more affected by X-ray radiation, an alternative to mammography might be MRI, which uses different imaging technology than X-rays. However, "there is currently not enough evidence to replace mammography with breast MRI," write the editorialists.

They call for more work to clarify the risks and benefits of X-rays for young women, whose dense breast tissue may affect mammography screening, and all women at high genetic risk of breast cancer.

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