Breast Cancer Risk Associated with Childhood Cancer Survivors

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Breast Cancer: Risk Associated with Childhood Cancer Survivors




Welcome to this month’s Breast Health e-Newsletter.  Our topic:  childhood cancer survivors need earlier screening mammograms.  Experts say female childhood cancer survivors who have had radiation in the past should get mammograms earlier than the general population of women.  Studies show that almost half of female childhood cancer survivors under the age of 40 who had chest radiation as part of their treatment aren’t using this advice.  As a result, study authors recommend better compliance with screening mammograms.


Results of the study were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Based on the study, the risk of breast cancer begins as soon as eight years after radiation treatment ends.  Doctors suggest starting screening mammograms at age 25, or eight years after the last radiation treatment, whichever comes last.  These guidelines are in place because women who have had chest radiation as children, or young adults, have a greater risk for breast cancer.  Those at highest risk for breast cancer are women who survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma through treatment with high-dose radiation.  


Study author Dr. Kevin Oeffinger says that although the majority of women who have had chest radiation will never have breast cancer, between 12 and 20 percent will have breast cancer by age 45.  Dr. Oeffinger reports that only 37 percent of women age 25 to 39 had been screened in the last two years.  In women between 40 and 50, about 77 percent had been in the last two years, but most weren’t in a regular pattern of screening.  Dr. Oeffinger’s study looked at 551 women who had survived a pediatric cancer and had undergone chest radiation as part of their treatment.  Overall, 55 percent of the women reported having a screening mammogram during the past two years.  Forty-seven percent of those under 40 had never had a screening mammogram.  Only 53 percent of those between 40 and 50 years old participated in regular mammogram screening.


The study found that screening rates were three times higher among women whose doctors wanted their patients tested.  Dr. Oeffinger says many different factors could account for why these women aren’t being screened.  One possible factor may be that many women were treated in the 1970s and 1980s, before survivor programs when treatment summaries weren’t available.  Another factor may be the small number of cases.  Only about 20,000 to 25,000 women across the U.S. are affected, therefore, most doctors will only have one patient, or less, who has survived a childhood cancer and had chest radiation. 


Breast cancer expert Dr. Freya Schnabel agrees that any woman who received radiation for cancer treatment as a child is at an increased risk.  She recommends that when a woman transitions to a new doctor, she shares her pediatric diagnosis and the details of treatment.  Dr. Schnabel emphasizes that having this radiation does put you at an increased risk of breast cancer.  However, if you have any family history of breast cancer, it’s even more important to get screened.


For more information, always consult your doctor.  Thank you for listening.  Please visit our website for more information on health and wellness topics: 

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