EXCLUSIVE: Women who find a non-cancerous breast lump or cyst have double the risk of disease

EXCLUSIVE: Women who find a non-cancerous breast lump or cyst have double the risk of disease

Women who find a non-cancerous breast lump or cyst are at double the risk of the disease developing in years to come, research shows.

A study of 800,000 Spanish women screened for breast cancer revealed women with a benign lump were 96 per cent more likely to get a positive diagnosis in the next 12 to 20 years.

It comes as separate research showed radiotherapy does not appear to improve survival after 30 years.

The treatment, which has been one of the cornerstones of cancer treatment throughout the 20th century, did cut the chances of tumours returning in the short term for 10 years.

Both studies are presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.

Professor David Cameron, of Edinburgh University and President of the European Breast Cancer Council, said: “Screening can help diagnose breast cancer at an earlier stage when the chances of survival are greater.

“This large study shows that women in a screening programme who are diagnosed with a benign breast disease appear to be at a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the long term and they may therefore benefit from enhanced screening.

“Mammograms quite often pick up signs of breast disease that are not cancer, such as cysts and fibroadenomas, and it’s important to remember that the majority of women with these conditions will not go on to develop breast cancer.”

Women in the study aged 50 to 69 were screened at least once between 1996 and 2015 and followed up until 2017 by researchers at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona.

Before being matched for age and other risk factors, among women with benign breast disease, around 25 out every 1,000 was later diagnosed with breast cancer.

Among women without benign breast disease, around 15 out of every 1,000 were later diagnosed with breast cancer.

Study author Dr Marta Román said: “This is important.

“It suggests that benign breast disease is a key indicator that a woman has a higher risk of breast cancer, rather than simply being something that could develop into a cancer.

“In fact we often find the benign disease in one breast and then cancer develops in the other breast.

“If a woman is diagnosed with a benign breast disease, and she has other high risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, she could benefit from more frequent screening.”

It comes as one of the longest-ever follow up studies of breast cancer patients found radiotherapy does not appear to improve survival after 30 years.

Researchers at Edinburgh University tracked 600 Scotish breast cancer patients and found that radiotherapy with either chemotherapy or the hormone drug tamoxifen after surgery did cut the risk over the first 10 years.

Other academics pointed out that the women in the study had treatment three decades ago and since then more sophisticated radiotherapy treatment techniques have been developed.

Three decades after their treatment 24 per cent of women who had radiotherapy were still alive compared to 27.5% of those who did not.

Author Prof Ian Kunkler said: “We found that there is no long-term improvement in overall survival for those women having radiotherapy.

“This may be because, although radiotherapy may help to prevent some breast cancer deaths, it may also cause a few more deaths, particularly a long time after the radiotherapy, from other causes such as heart and blood vessel diseases.

“The benefits of having radiotherapy in terms of fewer local recurrences are only accrued over the first 10 years after radiotherapy; thereafter, the rate of local recurrence is similar whether or not patients had radiotherapy.

“Patients with breast cancer can live for decades after treatment for the disease.”

Prof Nazanin Derakhshan, of reading University, said: “The benefit of radiotherapy with respect to survival to 10 years is clear to see from the data and should be reason enough to choose to treat.”