Women who carry a genetic mutation linked to a higher risk of breast cancer should be screened twice a year for the disease, according to a new report by researchers at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. These women are often at advanced stages of the disease months before they go to the doctor for an annual screening, according to the study. More frequent mammograms and ultrasound screening may be needed for the small percentage of women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genetic mutations appear in 5%-10% of the estimated 180,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year.
In their study of 13 women ages 32 to 59 with these genes, researchers at Columbia-Presbyterian found that six had developed breast cancers that had been detected during exams that took place between their yearly mammograms. The average time that had elapsed since their last annual screening was about five months, and four of the six women had already developed relatively advanced cancers that had spread to their lymph nodes. "We feel that [every] 12 months definitely is not adequate screening for women with these genetic mutations," said Ian Komenaka, a breast surgeon and lead author of the study, published Monday in the online edition of the American Cancer Society journal Cancer. "It looks like it needs to be every six months, if not every four months," Komenaka said. In 1997 the National Cancer Institute recommended that women 40 years and older have an exam every one to two years.