Younger women with a family history of breast cancer should receive annual screenings to pick up the disease earlier, a charity says.
Breast Cancer Now funded a study which found cancers were detected sooner when 35 to 39-year-olds at risk had annual mammograms.
Women are currently eligible for a scan due to their family history from the age of 40, but the research suggests an estimated 86,000 women in their late 30s could benefit from yearly screening.
The authors of the study said that more analysis was needed on the risks, costs and benefits of extending the screening programme.
The study which was carried out by researchers at the University of Manchester, offered scans to 2,899 women in their late 30s, who were deemed to have a moderate or high risk of the disease after being referred by a GP to a family history clinic.
The screening detected 35 invasive breast cancer tumours, most of which were small and identified before they had reached the lymph nodes – a sign which means that they had not spread around the body.
In a control group, which did not have the screening, far fewer of the cancers were discovered when they were still small and more had spread to the lymphatic system.
Baroness Delyth Morgan of Breast Cancer Now, said:
We’ve long known that a family history can define a woman’s risk, and that breast cancer can be more aggressive in younger women.
So if we can intervene earlier for those at higher risk through annual screening, we believe we may be able to stop the disease cutting so many women’s lives so heartbreaking short.
This could be an enormous breakthrough. We believe these findings could be practice-changing.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with about 55,000 women being diagnosed each year and 11,500 dying from the disease.
Between 5% and 15% of breast cancers are linked to a family history of the illness.
- Women are routinely offered screening when they reach the age of 50 – they will get an invite every three years until their 71st birthday
- The NHS is doing a trial of extending routine screening to some women aged 47-73
- If you have an increased risk of breast cancer because you carry certain genes or have close relatives who have had breast cancer, you may be offered yearly checks. Speak with your doctor about the best options for you.
BBC News. (2019). Breast cancer: Scan younger women at risk, charity says. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47193545. Last Accessed: 11 February 2019.
Daily Mail. (2019). Calls to cut age for breast scans: Up to 90,000 women with a family history of disease should have annual exams from 35 years old, study says. Accessible: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6689611/Up-90-000-women-family-history-disease-annual-exams-35.html. Last Accessed: 11 February 2019.