Medical radiation, family history of cancer, and benign breast disease in relation to breast cancer risk in young women, USA

Cancer Causes Control. 2002 Oct;13(8):711-8. doi: 10.1023/a:1020201106117.


Objective: In previous studies breast cancer risk has been increased among women who received high doses (above 100-200 cGy) of ionizing radiation or those exposed to lower doses prior to age 20. Some evidence suggests that such risk may be distinctly elevated among women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer (probably only carriers of specific gene mutations) and women with benign breast disease (BBD).

Methods: A population-based case-control study in Los Angeles County obtained interview data from 744 women who were aged 40 or younger and diagnosed with breast cancer during 1983-1988, and from 744 matched controls. Women with a positive family history of breast or ovarian cancer reported cancer in a mother, sister, or grandmother. Women with BBD reported a physician diagnosis. Radiation exposure was defined as a history of either radiation therapy or moderate exposure to medical radiography.

Results: Breast cancer risk was elevated among women exposed to medical radiation prior to age 20 years (odds ratio (OR) = 1.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.2-1.8), relative to unexposed women. This increased risk was observed only among women with a history of BBD (OR = 2.4, 95% CI = 1.6-3.7). Overall, risk was not associated with exposure to medical radiation after age 20 years, although among women with a positive family history of breast or ovarian cancer, exposed women had an increased risk (OR= 1.8, 95% CI = 1.0-3.1). Breast cancer risk was not increased among women with a family history of breast/ovarian cancer exposed to medical radiation before age 20 years or those with BBD exposed to medical radiation after age 20 years.

Discussion: Study participants may have received radiation doses that are no longer common, hampering study generalizability. Although differences in recall between cases and controls cannot be completely excluded, women with BBD or a family history of breast cancer appear to have greater breast cancer risk following relatively low ionizing radiation exposure than other women in this study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast / radiation effects
  • Breast Diseases / complications*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiography / adverse effects
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors