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Breast screening for 40s "saves lives"

Thursday September 30th, 2010

British experts reacted cautiously today to the findings of a major study which shows screening women in their 40s can slash breast cancer death rates.

The analysis of a project in Sweden found that mammography screening cut deaths by 29 per cent.

Some 600,000 women were studied for 16 years for the research published in the journal Cancer.

Researcher Barbro Hellquist and her colleagues say theirs is one of the first research projects to show that screening women in their 40s can be effective.

The study came about after twists and turns in policy in Sweden turned the country into a natural "laboratory".

During the project screening for women in their 40s was offered throughout half the country. During the 16 years some 800 women died from breast cancer in spite of screening whilst some 1,200 of those who were not offered testing until the age of 50 died.

Ms Hellquist explained: "Originally the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare recommended that women aged 40–69 years should be called in for screening. Soon after, these recommendations were changed to focus on women between the ages of 50 and 74.

"As a result, for a long period roughly half of Swedish counties and municipalities have called in 40 to 49-year-olds for screening, while about half have chosen to call in only women aged 50 and over."

Sarah Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, said: "There are few data of this kind looking at the effects of screening for younger women and this study helps shed some light on whether screening could be valuable for this age group. At present, the National Breast Screening Programme for women aged 50 to 70 is still one of the best ways to detect cancer early and helps save lives.

"All women should have access to reliable information and advice about screening to help them make informed choices that are appropriate to each individual.

"We would encourage all women to be breast aware and to go to their doctor if they notice any unusual changes to their breasts."

Cancer September 30 2010

* Relatives of women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 35 are at an increased risk of other cancers, researchers have warned.

The Australian research has opened up the search for new cancer genes, researchers say.

A study by the Centre for Molecular, Environmental, Genetic and Analytic Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found the risk was there even if they did not carry the faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

Scientists studied the 2,200 parents and siblings of 500 women under 25 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and who had been tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

After excluding families with mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, scientists found that the relatives not only faced an increased risk of breast cancer, but also of prostate, lung, brain and urinary cancers.

This could potentially reflect the presence and effects of other undiscovered gene disorders causing disease in these young women and perhaps other cancers in their families.

Professor John Hopper, who led the study, said: “These results are surprising and novel, and could be pointing to a new cancer genetic syndrome.

“Just as the link between male and female breast cancers in some families led UK researchers to find the breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA2, the results of this study could help scientists discover new cancer susceptibility genes.”

It is already known that relatives of very early onset breast cancer patients - without mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – carry a four-fold increased risk of the disease than those with no family link. But this study suggests that close relatives also face similarly high increased risks of other cancers.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study is important in suggesting a strategy to help identify other genes which significantly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk. And more studies with larger numbers will help confirm these risks.”

* Dite, GS et al., Increased cancer risks for relatives of very early-onset breast cancer cases with and without BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, British Journal of Cancer (2010)

Tags: Australia | Cancer | Europe | Genetics | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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