Childhood Cancer Survivors Skip Breast Screenings
Many Women Who Survived Cancer in Childhood Forgo Breast Cancer Screenings Despite Increased Risk
Jan. 27, 2009 -- Women who underwent chest radiation therapy for a childhood
cancer have a significantly higher risk for developing breast cancer at a younger age.
Yet a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows
that many of them do not undergo the recommended screenings.
"Most young women at risk of breast cancer following chest radiation for
a pediatric cancer, including women at highest risk (Hodgkin lymphoma survivors), are not being appropriately
screened," Kevin C. Oeffinger, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center in New York, and colleagues write.
About 20,000 to 25,000 women 25 and older in the U.S. have received chest
radiation for a childhood cancer, according to background information in the
journal report. For the past decade, experts have recommended yearly screening
mammograms for women who received moderate- to high-dose chest radiation
beginning either at age 25 or eight years after the treatment, whichever occurs
In 2008, the Children's Oncology Group (COG) updated the guidelines to
include breast magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) along with yearly mammograms. The American Cancer
Society recommends the same.
But some women in the new study had never even had a mammogram.
About 12% to 20% of women who receive moderate- to high-dose chest radiation
for a childhood cancer will be diagnosed with breast cancer by age 45, but some
develop the disease much earlier. "The risk of breast cancer begins to
increase as early as 8 years after radiation and the [midpoint] age of breast
cancer diagnosis ranges from 32 to 35 years," Oeffinger's team
Oeffinger and colleagues based their findings on a 114-item questionnaire
filled out by 625 female participants, aged 25 to 50, of the Childhood Cancer
Survivors Study (CCSS). All the women had survived childhood cancer and had
been treated with chest radiation.
The researchers compared the women's responses to similarly aged childhood
cancer survivors who did not receive chest radiation, and siblings with no
history of childhood cancer.
Among women 25 to 39 who had received chest radiation for childhood
- Most (47.3%) never had a mammogram.
- 63.5% had not received a screening mammogram within the past two years,
despite guidelines that recommend annual exams.
- Less than a fourth (23.3%) had a screening or diagnostic mammogram in the
- They were three times more likely to have had a mammogram if their doctor
Among women 40 to 50 who had received chest radiation for childhood
- They were more likely to have had mammograms than those aged 25 to 39.
- About two-thirds (76.5%) had a screening mammogram in the past two years
(compared with 70% for women who did not receive chest radiation during
childhood and 67% for siblings without history of childhood cancer).
- Slightly more than half (52%) had regular breast cancer screenings. (This
finding was not significantly higher than those who never had chest