Health Team

Breast cancer screenings recommended for former radiation patients

Posted January 27, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

Women who underwent chest radiation to treat cancer when they were young adults or children are at a greater risk to get breast cancer. That's why, several years after radiation, researchers recommend regular breast-cancer screenings, annual mammograms and a breast MRI.

More than 20,000 women in the United States have received chest radiation to treat cancer earlier in their lives.

A patient undergoes a mammogram. (Image from JAMA) Radiation patients need breast cancer screenings

The Children's Oncology Group now recommends breast-cancer screening starting at age 25 – or eight years after their radiation – with annual mammograms and a breast MRI.

“If we can diagnose breast cancer in an early stage in these women, their outcomes are good,” Dr. Kevin Oeffinger of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City said.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers asked 550 high-risk women about their screening habits.

Thirty-six percent of women ages 25 to 39 in the survey said they had undergone a mammogram in the previous two years. Forty-seven percent of women in that age group had never had a mammogram.

A little more than half of women ages 40 to 50 had regular screenings. All women of normal risk are told to start by age 40.

Researchers say doctors can help raise awareness.

“If a physician recommended screening for these women, especially those women between the ages of 25 to 39, they were three times more likely to have a mammogram than those women that didn't have a physician recommendation,” Oeffinger said.

Meg Owen, who had chest radiation to overcome Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice in her early 20s, said knowing that she is at a higher risk has helped.

“For me, knowledge is power,” Owen said. “The screening actually gives me peace of mind.”

Researchers are now looking for the best ways to distribute guideline information directly to patients and doctors, hoping to get more women into regular breast-cancer screening.


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  • carolina blue sky Jan 28, 2009

    I am a cancer survivor. I had Hodgkins Lymphoma at 17 years old and at 29. I have recently started mammograms every two years. They told me 15 years ago that I would be at higher risk for breast cancer due to the radiation. If you don't take care of yourself, nobody else will!!

  • GHCC Jan 28, 2009

    This is exactly what happened with my wife. She had multiple radiation tratments as a child to treat a reoccuring neuroblastoma in her chest. If not for the treatments then, she would have died. She is very healthy and weight conscious, and was diagnosed with brest cancer at 36. If not for the mammogram, it would not have been detected early enough. The previous comment sounds like it was posted by a thermography provider. Listen to the doctors! They know what they are talking about!!

  • purplerado Jan 27, 2009

    "Women who underwent chest radiation to treat cancer when they were young adults or children are at a greater risk to get breast cancer." Hmm. do you think that could possibly be because RADIATION CAUSES CANCER???!!! So, they should go get mammograms every year and expose themselves to more radiation? Mammograms are a leading cause of the increase in breast cancer. Google that and see for yourself. If doctors truly wanted to "raise awareness" they would encourage women to get their weight down to normal, eat an alkaline diet including fresh vegetables, avoid sugar & alcohol and get some exercise and find ways to reduce stress and laugh more. And DIScourage women from getting mammograms and recommend thermography screenings instead. People need to wake up and realize that breast cancer is more about big bucks than women's health.