Benign breast disease, or the presence of noncancerous growths in the breast tissue, may increase the risk of breast cancer in women who have never been diagnosed with the disease, according to research presented at the 13th European Breast Cancer Conference in Vienna, Austria today (Thursday). In women diagnosed with benign breast disease through screening, the risk of breast cancer almost doubles. Approximately 5% of all women are diagnosed with benign breast disease by their 40s and 50s, while approximately 1% develop breast cancer each year, the researchers said.
According to a study, presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference, breast cancer risks are nearly doubled for women diagnosed with benign breast disease through screening.
This study found that women who have never been screened have a 1.2% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime; however, the risk increases to 2% among those diagnosed with benign breast disease.
Furthermore, researchers also noted an increased risk among postmenopausal women diagnosed with benign breast disease.
These findings suggest that some type of treatment may be needed to reduce this heightened risk of cancer and avoid unnecessary interventions such as mastectomies or lumpectomies.
It is currently unclear what causes the heightened risk, but one possible explanation is related to hormones.
Hormones are known to stimulate cancerous cells in the breast tissue which could lead to more aggressive types of tumors.
Researchers hope that future studies will clarify why there seems to be a link between these two diagnoses and determine how best to help patients going forward.
What is benign breast disease?
Benign breast disease is the term given to a range of conditions, including cysts and fibroadenomas.
Cysts are fluid-filled pockets that can be drained, while fibroadenomas are benign lumps found in the breast tissue.
Fibroadenomas most often occur during puberty and may also be caused by hormone changes. They can range in size from less than 1 cm to as large as 10 cm.
Fibroadenomas are not cancerous and may disappear without treatment.
Benign breast disease is not related to breast cancer; however, research shows that women who have been diagnosed with this condition through screening have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the long term compared to other women.
Research indicates that women who develop these conditions through screening have a 36% greater chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime,
while those without any form of breast disease but who underwent routine mammography screenings showed no difference.
It is thought that these findings suggest an underlying biological link between some forms of benign breast disease and later development of invasive cancers, according to
Dr Anne Hubler’s presentation on behalf of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) today.
We need to know more about what it means if you have benign breast disease. she said. At the moment, we don’t know enough.
The link between benign breast disease and breast cancer
Benign breast disease is a term that describes any condition of the breasts other than cancer.
With the exception of fibrocystic breast disease, most benign breast diseases are not thought to be related to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Research shows that it’s unlikely to be true. The study found that women with benign breast disease through screening (ie diagnosed through mammography) were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer in the long-term compared to those without benign conditions detected by mammography.
The risk was further increased by a woman’s age and family history of breast cancer.
The researchers advise all women who have been diagnosed with benign breast disease via mammography to make sure they get screened regularly for the rest of their lives – even after they’ve had their last child.
The message for women with benign breast disease detected through screening is to continue regular surveillance, including clinical examination, says Professor Trevor Powles from Sydney University. This may include annual mammograms.
A diagnosis of benign breast disease is sometimes more serious news for younger women, who can feel less confident about going out and enjoying life because of worries about how the disease might progress.
Although there are no strong links between benign breast diseases like cysts and duct ectasia and cancer risk, it is important that these symptoms be investigated properly in order to reassure young mothers about future risks.
Younger women tend to worry more than older women, Dr Kerry Mills said on ABC Radio National today.
Dr Mills also emphasised that all types of breast condition should still be treated by medical professionals so they can ensure early detection if necessary.
Implications of the findings
According to this study, women with benign breast disease who undergo breast cancer screening have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Screening for benign breast disease more than doubles the risk of breast cancer in women. Research on breast cancer was presented by scientists from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and The Netherlands Cancer Institute at the 13th European Breast Cancer Conference.
The risk of developing breast cancer was higher for women younger than 30 diagnosed with benign breast disease.
According to an accompanying press release, lead researcher Marjolein van Asseldonk: We have established that women with benign breast disease are at higher risk of developing breast cancer in the long run.
Primary prevention strategies targeting the subgroup of young women with benign breast disease may benefit from these findings.
Previous research has shown that men are more likely to develop prostate cancer if they are screened for it – however these findings only apply to people aged 60 or older.
In this case, the risks outweigh the benefits due to side effects such as overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.
However, in the case of breast cancer where there is no clear consensus among experts about the best course of action, this could change how we screen women.
Currently the international guidelines recommend mammograms every two years between ages 50 and 70; mammograms every year between age 40 and 49; yearly physical examination between ages 20 to 39; and yearly clinical examination between ages 10 to 19.
Given these new findings, we will need a better understanding of how often screening should happen for different groups of patients with benign breast disease so as not to cause any harm.