Women at Higher Risk for Breast Cancer Support Increased Screening

Study finds fewer women would support less frequent screening if they were found to be at lower risk.

Study finds fewer women would support less frequent screening if they were found to be at lower risk.

A large proportion of women support more frequent breast screening if they face a higher genetic risk for developing breast cancer, according to a recent study.

The study, published recently in The Breast, found that 85% of women surveyed said they would support increased screening, while 60% supported less frequent screening if they were found to be at a lower risk for breast cancer.

The survey included 940 women from the United Kingdom who were asked about the potential for breast screening customized to people's genetic risk. The survey found that 66% of women support altering the screening frequency on the basis of risk.

All women between the ages of 50 and 70 years are urged to undergo screening every 3 years, while women over 70 years can request more frequent screening due to an increase cancer risk for older women.

Women with a strong family history of the disease, however, may have the option of a different screening pattern.

"Looking at whether genetic risk could be used to tailor and improve the breast screening program is still at an early stage, but it's useful to find out now what the public might think about this idea,” research psychologist Susanne Meisel said in a press release. “Our study showed that, overall, women seem to support it. It's interesting there was less support for the idea of less frequent screening for people at lower risk of cancer. This could be because many women tend to see screening as beneficial or feel they have a right to screening, or some women might take a 'better safe than sorry' approach to cancer screening which may make them more accepting of potential harm from it."

In addition to detecting cancers that require treatment, screening can also find slow-growing cancers that would not have been otherwise found without screening. This leads some women to be treated unnecessarily for a cancer that would not affected them during their life span.

"Breast screening saves lives, but it also has risks,” Cancer Research UK senior health information manager Jessica Kirby said in a press release. “One suggestion to try to maximize the benefit and reduce the risk is to tailor screening more effectively to people's risk of breast cancer, but more research is needed to show whether this approach will be effective or possible.”

The survey included 5 questions to evaluate how women assess their risk for developing breast cancer, their attitude towards genetic testing, and the use of genetic risk to vary the frequency of screening. There was little information provided on how a modified screening program may function, while there was no information given on the current screening program.

"This interesting study suggests that women are generally positive about the idea of tailoring screening, but in the meantime, it's critical that women are offered proper information about the benefits and risks of screening, and supported to make an informed decision,” Kirby concluded.