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According to a study revealed at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, lab tests show that changes in the density of women's breasts as they age have strong ties to the risk of breast cancer. Utilizing a new method of measurement and a focus group comprised of breast cancer patients and healthy women, the report was able to determine that women without cancer experienced a steady decline in breast density as they aged compared to those with cancer.
"Women under age 50 are most at risk from density-associated breast cancer, and breast cancer in younger women is frequently of a more aggressive type, with larger tumors and a higher risk of reoccurrence," stated Nicholas Perry, M.B.B.S., senior author of the study and director at the London Breast Institute in England.
The American Cancer Society recommended that women should get an MRI in addition to a full mammogram if they are at risk of breast cancer, as mammograms sometimes do not detect cancer given the density of a patient's breast. Even then, MRIs are only suggested for those at high risk of developing cancer.
Perry and his collaborators worked with nearly 600 participants, split evenly between women with cases of breast cancer and healthy patients. The women went through full mammograms, while the breast density was measured using a new system designed by the team at LBI.
"In general, we refer to breast density as being determined by mammographic appearance, and that has, by and large, in the past been done by visual estimation by the radiologist - in other words, subjective and qualitative," Perry explained.
Using a new system of density measurement, the researchers employed an algorithm that made breast density more assessable than it has been in the past. The updated formula could prove to be extremely beneficial in later screenings for breast cancer.
The future of testing for cancer
While the ACS advocated yearly mammograms for women after they hit 40, the findings in this study could alter the usual course of actions for cancer screening.
"This is not likely to diminish the current ACS guidelines in any way, but it might add a new facet regarding the possibility of an early mammogram to establish an obvious risk factor, which may then lead to enhanced screening for those women with the densest breasts," speculated Perry.
The implementation of Perry's algorithm could lead to a decrease in false-positive diagnoses from mammograms and MRIs in addition to advancement in screening processes. With lab tests online and improvements in blood testing, the success rate of cancer prevention could begin to increase in the near future.
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