Charity Advises Scanning Women for Breast Cancer Earlier
A leading breast cancer charity has called for women with a history of breast cancer to have annual mammograms when they are in their 30s.
Screening only currently starts for these women when they reach the age of 40.
Breast cancer screening uses an X-ray (a mammogram) to spot cancer early, before a lump is felt or seen.
As the likelihood of getting breast cancer increases with age, it is current policy in the UK for women aged between 50 and 70 to be invited for breast screening. This is also because screening is thought to be less effective at finding breast cancer in women before the menopause.
For women who have a family history of breast cancer, they will often be invited for screening at a younger age – usually 40 to 49.
Size of lump
Now a major new trial has found that it could be beneficial for women aged 35 to 39 who have a high risk of developing breast cancer to be screened each year.
The study looked at almost 3,000 women aged between 35 and 39 who were offered screening between 2006 and 2015. They were all classed as being at moderate or high risk of breast cancer due to a family history of the disease.
There were 50 breast cancers detected, of which 35 were invasive breast cancers. Of those 35 cancers, 80% were detected by screening when the lump was 2cm or smaller.
More cancers detected
The researchers compared these results to those of a group of women who were not screened, but were at increased risk. In these unscreened women, only 45% of breast cancers were detected when the tumour was 2cm or smaller.
The researchers therefore conclude that regular screening in high or moderate risk women should be extended to include women aged between 35 and 39.
The charity Breast Cancer Now has called for the current screening guidelines to be changed in light of this trial.
Lead author of the trial, Professor Gareth Evans from the University of Manchester, said: “Over-diagnosis is far less likely to be a major issue in such a young age group. For women with a family history, removing a non-invasive tumour so early in their lives is likely to be a cancer preventive.
“You only need to look at current long-term survival outcomes in this group to see just how important new early detection methods could be.”
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