According to the conclusions of a study published in the September 6 issue of the prestigious British Medical Journal, it would appear that women with faults in a specific gene are more likely to develop breast cancer if they are subjected to chest X-rays before the age of 30.
The investigators found that the genetic fault in question affected the BRCA gene, which is known to play a role in the development of this type of cancer. The main implication of the new study is that physicians need to reconsider their recommendations to females in this group.
During the study, researchers analyzed the cases of 2,000 women in France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, paying special attention to any potential BRCA malfunctions. The investigation was partially funded by Cancer Research UK.
Between 2006 and 2009, scientists at the University of Cambridge
conducted a series of tests on these women, meant to assess whether exposures to low doses of radiations would somehow make their DNA errors manifest themselves in the form of cancer.
One of the conclusions was that women under the age of 30 who were exposed to X-rays, and also had the erroneous form of the BRCA gene, were around 43 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than their peers.
Interestingly, women who received similar exposures to radiation, but were over 30, did not show a similar risk. In the general population, BRCA errors account for 2 percent of all breast cancers.
“BRCA genes help repair DNA damage – damage which can be caused by exposure to radiation like X-rays. Women with faults in these genes are less able to repair damage caused by radiation, so they are at a greater risk of developing breast cancer,” says Douglas Easton.
“It’s important that these women and their doctors are aware of this,” adds the expert, a professor at the University of Cambridge, and the author of the new BMJ paper. Statistically, women with BRCA errors are 45 to 65 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than peers with normal genetic makeup.
“This research highlights that young women with a faulty BRCA gene are potentially more sensitive to low doses of radiation and doctors need to be aware of these risks when considering procedures using X-rays,” adds the senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, Dr. Julie Sharp.
In the United Kingdom, women under the age of 30 who have BRCA errors are scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), rather than X-rays.