What Are the Potential Risks of Mammogram Radiation?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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In weighing the benefits versus the risk of mammogram radiation, researchers have discovered that low dose radiation can be quite harmful to young women who have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. For these women, experts recommend that mammogram radiation be avoided and alternative cancer detection methods be used. In women of all ages, however, the risks of repeated x-rays may also cause cancer to develop in breast tissue, and some experts believe it may contribute to the development of heart disease, as well. For most women, experts agree that a periodic mammography is a safe procedure with very low risks.

Mammogram radiation can cause irreversible damage to specific DNA cells such as breast tissue cells identified as BRCA1 AND BRCA2 cells. These mutated cells do not recover from radiation damage and, therefore, place women with these mutations at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Doctors believe that women with these breast cell mutations who are age 25 and under benefit more from attempting to detect cancer via radiation-free magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound procedures, instead.


The amount of mammogram radiation exposure is reported to be very low by some experts. Others, however, maintain that mammogram radiation levels exceed the amounts of radiation received via a routine chest x-ray by as much as 150 times. With each breast receiving a minimum of two x-rays, a total of four x-rays are common in most mammography exams. Doctors concerned about these amounts maintain that there is no such thing as a safe level of radiation and that even the lowest doses present the possibility of gene mutations, which may result in cancerous cell developments.

In addition to the development of breast cancer, some experts maintain that radiation exposure may also contribute to the development of cancer in other parts of the body, as well as the development of heart disease. This is of particular concern for mammography patients who have also had recent x-rays for other examinations, including dental exams and chest exams. For these individuals, mammogram radiation only increases overall exposure levels and may cause irreparable cellular damage.

Experts advise women to discuss recent encounters with radiation with their doctors before agreeing to be exposed to mammogram radiation. Doing so may minimize risks of cellular damage. While mammogram radiation presents a serious cancer risk for young women with genetic histories of breast cancer, most research concludes that the risk for healthy women over the age of 35 or 40 is minimal, although the possibility of cell damage always accompanies radiation exposure even if at miniscule levels.


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