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Study: Younger Breasts Harder To Read

July 28, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Mammography screening has been shown to be less effective for women in their 40s than for older women. Mammograms just don’t seem to be as good at detecting tumors in women that age. That’s one reason for the controversial recommendation last year by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that women of that age not get routine mammograms.

But why is screening less effective? Is it because tumors tend to grow faster in younger women, meaning that by the time they would grow to a size detectable by mammography, they probably would already have been detected by other means? Or is it because younger women tend to have denser breast tissue, which can make mammograms harder to read and mask tumors?

It’s the density, according to a study published online Monday in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sylvia K. Plevritis, PhD, of the Department of Radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and her colleagues used a computer model, the Breast Cancer Screening Simulator, to set up hypothetical screening scenarios for women ages 40 to 49 and 50 to 69.

They concluded that 79 percent of the screening problem resulted from the detectability difficulties, and that the other 21 percent came from the faster tumor growth. Said Stephanie L. Bailey, PhD, who is also with the Stanford Radiology Department and is one of the coauthors:

Our results underscore the importance of continued efforts to improve technologies for early detection of breast cancer in younger women, particularly in women with dense breast tissue.

This was a computer simulation, subject to the usual cautions about the quality of the input data affecting the quality of the output data. The authors acknowledged some other limitations, including the fact that density-related low mammographic tumor detectability could be considered a risk factor for breast cancer.

They suggested: “More research is needed to not only establish a better relationship between mammographic breast density and breast cancer risk but also understand the differences in tumor characteristics in dense vs. non-dense breast tissue.”

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography

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One Response to “Study: Younger Breasts Harder To Read”

  1. emedist.com on July 28th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Breast Tumors Harder to Find in Younger Women…

    Women in their 40s with breast cancer have tumors that are more difficult to detect with mammography, not faster growing tumors that manifest between imaging studies, a computer simulation of breast cancer suggests. Reduced detectability explained…