Many times, a suspicious area in the breast found by a mammogram or other screening test is biopsied and found to be a benign (not cancer) abnormal area. When this happens, doctors often recommend a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan because they’re concerned that the benign abnormal area may be linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network supports this approach, recommending that screenings be done every 6 to 12 months for 1 or 2 years in women who’ve had a benign abnormal area that’s been biopsied.
But a new study suggests that more aggressive breast cancer screening may not make sense after a benign abnormality is biopsied; following standard breast cancer screening guidelines for women with average breast cancer risk is appropriate.
The study was published in the May 2012 issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology. Read the abstract of Short-Term Follow-Up of Patients With Benign Breast Biopsies: Is It Really Worth It? (scroll down to the second abstract).
Researchers reviewed the medical records of 388 women who had a breast biopsy with benign results. The women were 18 to 88 years old. Looking at the breast cancer screening tests (mostly mammograms) done after the biopsy, the researchers found:
- at 6 months, 40 women had a follow-up screening test; none were diagnosed with breast cancer
- at 1 year, 345 women had a follow-up screening test; none were diagnosed with breast cancer
- at 2 years, 197 women had a follow-up screening test; two women were diagnosed with breast cancer
Both of the women diagnosed with breast cancer were older than 40 and would have been screened for breast cancer (based on current screening guidelines) even if they hadn’t had an earlier benign breast biopsy.
Because of the extra breast cancer screenings that were done, 6% of the women had a second breast biopsy with benign results.
So the researchers concluded that a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan after a benign abnormal area is found in the breast may not be warranted. For most women, following the current breast cancer screening guidelines is fine.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a benign abnormal area in your breast, this study should be reassuring. As you develop a breast cancer screening plan with your doctor, you might want to bring up this study. Together, you can create a screening plan that makes the most sense for your specific situation.
For more information on mammograms and other tests to detect breast cancer, visit the Breastcancer.org Breast Cancer Tests: Screening, Diagnosis, and Monitoring pages.