A preliminary study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology this past week suggests that women who have mutations in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes and are exposed to any X-rays have a greater chance of developing cancer.
Over 1600 women with a mutation in either their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes were questioned about whether or not they had ever had an x-ray. The study revealed that the women who had received chest x-rays were around 54% more likely to get breast cancer. And if they had the x-ray before they were 20, they were 2.5 times more likely to have breast cancer before they were 40.
This study was reported by Reuters, Forbes and others who did make it clear that it was just a preliminary study. Issues about the problems with self-reporting on questionaires were discussed also – as well as the fact that even high risk women don’t usually start having mammograms before 20.
Despite those caveats a study like this being reported by the general media might leave some high risk women – or even those without the mutations – afraid of getting mammograms.
It may very well be true that women with the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutations may be increasing their chances of developing breast cancer even more by getting mammograms – it is known that some percent of the population is more at risk from radiation damage due to x-rays. Plus BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are believed to be involved in DNA repair mechanisms.
If it turns out to be a big enough risk it may prompt the faster development of alternative screening methods for breast cancer – possibly methods that are more comfortable for women.
Meanwhile – do you think it does more harm than good when these types of studies are released? Is it best that all research results – even if preliminary – are made available to the public? Is it worth the risk of some women being afraid of getting regular mammograms? Do most people understand the relationships between genes, mutations and cancer well enough to put the study into a proper perspective?
I lean toward having results of all medical and scientific results available to all regardless of the confusion it might cause. I can see how others may disagree though. What do you think?
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