Copyright of the image
Scientific photo library
Younger women with a family history of breast cancer should be screened annually to screen for the disease earlier, said a charity.
Breast cancer now has funded a study that found that cancers were detected earlier when people aged 35 to 39 at risk underwent an annual mammogram.
NHS screening often begins at age 40 for women with a family history.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of this charity, said earlier tests could be "a huge step forward".
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester, analyzed 2899 women aged 35 to 39 years at moderate to high risk of contracting the disease.
Screening revealed 35 invasive breast cancer tumors, most of which were small and identified before they reached the lymph nodes, a sign that they had not spread throughout the body.
In a control group, which had not done the screening, a lot fewer cancers were discovered while they were still small and a greater number of them were diagnosed. were spread to the lymphatic system.
Professor Gareth Evans, the lead author of the study, said the trial demonstrated that annual tests were effective at detecting tumors earlier for this younger age group.
He said that overdiagnosis – where people are treated for cancers that are not likely to be harmful – was "much less likely" to be a problem for this younger age group.
Baroness Morgan became a peer for life in 2004
"For women with a family history, eliminating a non-invasive tumor as early in life will likely have a preventative effect on cancer," said Professor Evans.
The authors of the study stated that further analysis was needed on the risks, costs, and benefits of extending the screening program.
Baroness Morgan, however, called on the government to review the NHS screening programs in England in the near future to consider introducing scans for women aged 35 to 39 with a family history of breast cancer.
Cut lives "breathtaking"
If the annual mammograms of this group of women were widely disseminated in the four NHS departments in the UK, this could affect up to 86,000 women, the researchers said.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Approximately 55,000 women are diagnosed each year and 11,500 die.
Between 5% and 15% of breast cancers are linked to a family history of the disease.
"We have long known that family history can define a woman's risk and that breast cancer can be more aggressive in younger women," said Baroness Morgan.
"So, if we can intervene earlier for high-risk people through annual screening, we think we may be able to stop the disease by ending so many women's lives in such a heartbreaking way."
An NHS England spokeswoman said that any changes to the screening program would be taken into account in this review.
She said: "Breast cancer survival is at its highest level and with improved screening, a key part of the NHS's long-term plan, more cancers will be diagnosed sooner" .