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Breast Risks From Low-Dose Radiation Vary

October 17, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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New research could lead to a blood test for identifying women at high risk of developing breast cancer from exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation.

High-risk women should avoid such low-level radiation sources as full-body CT scans and radiation therapy. If they do develop cancer, non-radiation therapies might be best for treatment.

The research came from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. Scientists studied two strains of mice, one susceptible to radiation-induced breast cancer and one resistant. The researchers examined mammary tissue from the mice both before and after exposure to low-dose radiation.

Andrew Wyrobek, PhD, a senior staff scientist and one of the researchers, explained the findings:

Our studies of genetic differences in radiation sensitivity in mice and individual variation in breast cancer survival in women suggest that there are women who, because of their genes, have a higher risk of breast cancer when they’re exposed to low-dose radiation.

Dr. Wyrobek was quoted in a lab news release. The findings were published Monday in PLoS ONE.

Genes have increasingly become the focus of cancer research. In comparing the mice before radiation exposure, the researchers found more than 130 genes that express differently in the cancer-resistant mice compared with the cancer-sensitive mice.

Turning to people, the researchers examined data about women breast cancer patients. Women with the same gene-expression profile as the cancer-sensitive mice were less likely to survive eight years after cancer diagnosis than women whose profiles matched those of the cancer-resistant mice.

After low-dose radiation exposure, genes that regulate the immune system were suppressed in the cancer-sensitive mice. Genes that regulate mammary gland development in puberty were, incorrectly, turned on, and genes associated with cell division and renewal were up-regulated. In cancer-resistant mice, the cell division and renewal genes were down-regulated, suggesting the activation of mechanisms designed to prevent cellular proliferation, which can lead to cancer.

Dr. Wyrobek summed up the implications:

This research opens promising opportunities for developing blood tests that predict a woman’s risk for breast cancer and which identify women who are susceptible to the cancer effects of low-dose radiation exposures.

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A lawsuit accuses an Illinois radiologist of causing a woman’s death by failing to diagnose breast cancer in a mammogram. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related seminar: UCSF Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography (free U.S. shipping)

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