Mammograms lagging in women after childhood cancer

Tue Jan 27, 2009 4:12pm EST
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Women who underwent chest radiation as part of treatment for childhood cancer often are not getting recommended breast cancer screenings despite being at high risk for the disease, researchers said on Tuesday.

Their study involved women in the United States and Canada who had cancers such as Hodgkin's disease as children or young adults and were treated with moderate- to high-dose radiation to the chest, which can raise the risk of breast cancer.

Experts recommend these women have an annual mammogram, or breast X-ray, to screen for breast cancer starting at age 25, or eight years after radiation treatment, whichever is later.

But among women ages 25 to 39 in this group, 47 percent had never had a mammogram, and only 23 percent had undergone one in the past year, the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The rates were quite low, lower than what we anticipated," said Dr. Kevin Oeffinger of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who led the study.

By age 45, up to 20 percent of these women get breast cancer, many of them in their 30s, he said.

"It's not a question of the women avoiding screening," Oeffinger said in a telephone interview. "It's a lack of them understanding their risk and physicians being unfamiliar with the risk in this population, especially for the younger patients."

The study tracked 625 women ages 25 to 50 who had chest radiation when they were young to treat cancer.   Continued...

<p>A breast cancer patient listens to her doctor after a radiological exam in a file photo. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis</p>