Childhood cancer survivors at risk of breast cancer

Although women treated with chest radiation for childhood cancers constitute one of the highest risk populations for breast cancer, they are far less likely to begin receiving early mammograms when they should, say investigators at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Researchers emphasize the importance of educating such at-risk women and their physicians about the need for early screening and recommend that these women begin breast cancer screenings at age 25. By catching the disease at an early stage, successful treatment is far more likely.

A survey conducted of 551 women, ages 25 to 50, who had been treated for childhood cancers with chest radiation found that only 55 percent had undergone a screening mammogram in the previous two years. Although low, this percentage was higher than comparison groups of participants’ healthy siblings and of women with childhood cancers who had not received chest radiation.

The screening level was particularly low among women ages 25 to 39, with only 36.5 percent reporting having mammograms in the previous two years. By contrast, 76.5 percent of the women ages 40 to 50 reported having mammograms. All of the women surveyed were participants in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), a consortium of centers in the United States and Canada. St. Jude is the central coordinating institution.

“These statistics document a serious problem that a large proportion of women who should be screened at a very young age are not being tested,” said Les Robison, Ph.D., chair of the Epidemiology and Cancer Control department at St. Jude and the senior author of a paper about these findings, which was published earlier this year.

Researchers said physician recommendations were most likely to influence the women to have mammograms. Women who had a positive view of screening mammography were also more likely to have mammograms.