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Radiation Exposure From Annual Mammography Increases Breast Cancer Risk in Young High-Risk Women

December 2, 2009 (Chicago, Illinois)-The  doses of radiation associated with annual screening mammography could be placing high-risk women in even more jeopardy of developing breast cancer, particularly if they start screening at a young age or have frequent exposure, according to new research presented here at the Radiological Society of North America.

"The take-home message here is that high-risk women who are younger should be careful about mammography screening," she said "Because they are young, they also have dense breasts, which poses a problem with mammography. They should explore alternative screening methods."

The dangers of radiation in younger women have been well recognized, affirmed Allen G. Meek, MD, from State University of Stony Brook in New York, who moderated the scientific session.

"The general consensus is that the immature breast is more susceptible to ionizing radiation, so I certainly think that low-dose radiation is an issue."

Alert - Mammograms Cause Cancer

Scientists agree that there is no safe dose of radiation. Cellular DNA in the breast is more easily damaged by very small doses of radiation than thyroid tissue or bone marrow; in fact, breast cells are second only to fetal tissues in sensitivity to radiation. And the younger the breast cells, the more easily their DNA is damaged by radiation. As an added risk, one percent of American women carry a hard-to-detect oncogene which is triggered by radiation; a single mammogram increases their risk of breast cancer by a factor of 4-6 times. "The usual dose of radiation during a mammographic x-ray is from 0.25 to1 rad with the very best equipment; that's 1-4 rads per screening mammogram (two views each of two breasts). One rad increases breast cancer risk one percent and is the equivalent of one year's natural aging. "If a woman has yearly mammograms from age 55 to age 75, she will receive a minimum of 20 rads of radiation. For comparison, women who survived the atomic bomb blasts in Hiroshima or Nagasaki absorbed 35 rads. Though one large dose of radiation can be more harmful than many small doses, it is important to remember that damage from radiation is cumulative."In other words, it appears that the diagnostic X-rays being used to detect possible breast cancer are themselves a prime cause of breast cancer. And then they turn around and recommend even higher doses of radiation to treat the cancer.

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