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Do Chest X-Rays Increase The Risk Of Breast Cancer?

X-rays are supposed to look below the surface and spot potential problems before they arise, or at least before they worsen.

But a new study suggests women with BRCA 1 or 2 – genes making them susceptible to breast cancer – were 54 per cent more likely to develop the disease if they’ve ever had a chest X-ray.

An analysis of 1,600 women with BRCA mutations showed exposure to chest X-rays before the age of 20 may be linked to particularly heightened risk.

The research, conducted by a consortium of European cancer centres, was the first to analyze the impact of low-level X-ray exposure among women with genetically high risk for the disease.

“This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that women genetically predisposed to breast cancer may be more susceptible to low-dose ionizing radiation than other women,” said David E. Goldgar, lead author of the study.

“If confirmed in prospective studies, young women who are members of families known to have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may wish to consider alternatives to X-ray, such as MRI,” he added.

The risk of breast cancer is higher for those with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes and there’s also a higher chance of developing ovarian cancer. The gene changes can be inherited from either parent’s side and even within a family certain people are at greater risk.

“Since BRCA proteins are integral in repairing damage to breast cells, we hypothesized that women with BRCA 1/2 mutations would be less able to repair damage caused to DNA by ionizing radiation,” said Dr. Goldgar. “Our findings support this hypothesis and stress the need for prospective studies.”

Of course this doesn’t mean X-rays should be avoided at all cost. One may worry X-rays aren’t safe because it’s known that high levels of radiation exposure can cause cell mutations that may lead to cancer, b ut the amount of radiation you’re exposed to during an X-ray is so small that the risk of any damage to cells in your body is extremely low.

So for most examinations, the benefits of are thought to outweigh the risk. In addition, great care’s taken to use the lowest radiation dose possible to produce the best images for the radiologist to evaluate.

However, if you’re pregnant or suspect you might be, inform your doctor before having an X-ray. Though the risk of most X-rays to an unborn baby is small, your doctor may consider whether it’s better to wait or use another imaging test like an ultrasound.

Things that increase your risk of breast cancer in include:

  • A close family member with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 change.
  • One or more close family members with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or both.
  • Your chance of cancer is higher if either of these cancers occurred before age 50, if several family members had these cancers, if the breast or ovarian cancer occurred in both breasts or ovaries, or if one family member had both cancers.
  • A male family member with breast cancer.
  • A family member younger than age 50 with breast cancer who is of Eastern European or Ashkenazi (European) Jewish descent.
  • A family member with ovarian cancer who is of Eastern European or Ashkenazi (European) Jewish descent.