“Deborah agreed to take part in a trial as she was keen to help other cancer patients in the future. "If taking part in a trial means others might be helped then I’m very happy with that."
A study looking at screening for women aged 40 to 49 with a family history of breast cancer (FH - 01)
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This study looked at whether regular screening for women with a family history of breast cancer could help to save lives.
Women in the UK are automatically invited for breast screening when they are between 50 and 70 years old. If you are older than this, you can request a mammogram 3 yearly.
At the moment, your GP or hospital consultant can refer you to your local genetics centre if you are younger than 50, have relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are concerned about your own risk. They will do an assessment of your risk of developing breast cancer, based on your family history. If they feel it is necessary, you will then have regular examinations and possibly mammograms. But the frequency of screening for high risk women under 50 varies across the country, and we don't really know how helpful it is.
The women who took part in this study were at an increased risk of developing breast cancer because of their family history. They had a mammogram once a year.
The aim of the study was to see if yearly mammograms would save lives in women aged 40 to 49 with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Summary of results
The research team found that yearly mammograms for women at an increased risk of breast cancer meant that cancers were diagnosed at an earlier stage and that it did help to save lives.
This study recruited 6,701 women aged 40 to 49 who all had a family history of breast cancer that increased their own risk of developing the disease. They all had mammograms about once a year.
136 women were diagnosed with cancer during the study, with 105 of these as a result of the study mammogram. The other 31 were diagnosed after the women developed symptoms between mammograms.
The research team looked at the stage of the cancer when it was diagnosed, whether it had spread to lymph nodes or not and how quickly the cancer was likely to grow (the grade). They also used a tool called the Nottingham Prognostic Index (NPI) to calculate how long, on average, they would expect the women to live.
They compared the results to 2 other breast cancer trials. One was the UK Age Trial which screened women aged 40 to 42 who didn’t necessarily have a family history of breast cancer. The other was a Dutch study of women who had a family history of breast cancer and had not had regular screening.
They found that, compared to the UK Age Trial and the Dutch trial, the cancers diagnosed in this trial (FH-01) were
- Less likely to have spread to lymph nodes
- More likely to be slower growing cancers (lower grade)
The research team calculated that about 8 out of 10 (81%) of the women who were diagnosed with cancer in this trial would be alive 10 years after their diagnosis. This compared to about 7 out of 10 in the other 2 trials. They also calculated that 1 life could be saved per 5,000 mammograms.
The research team concluded that yearly mammograms for women with family history of breast cancer could help save lives.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Dr James Mackay
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
UK NHS Health Technology Assessment