Mammogram radiation risks, fertility treatments, family history and breast cancer

Mammograms emit radiation to detect lesions that could be cancerous. Could having annual mammograms actually cause breast cancer themselves?
What about fertility treatments with hormones – do we know if such an approach is likely to lead to breast cancer? For women without family history, is a breast tumour preventable?
Let’s read more about some of these myths.


”Radiation from annual mammograms puts us at higher risk of getting breast cancer”

Where does the myth come from?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast, but emits relatively small amounts of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low. Of course, if one gets small amounts of radiation on a repetitive basis, the odds of cancer may increase.

The reality behind the myth

While it is true that radiation is used in mammography, the amount is so small that any associated risks are low. As a matter of fact, the amount of radiation from a screening mammogram on both breasts is about the same that a woman would get from her natural surroundings over about 7 weeks.

This is why the benefits of mammography nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. Mammograms can detect lumps well before they can be felt or otherwise noticed, increasing our chances for survival. The American Cancer Society recommends that women should start getting mammograms at age 40.

Finally, keep in mind that women must let their health care provider know if there is any possibility that they are pregnant, because radiation can harm a growing fetus.


“If I have no family history of breast cancer, I can prevent it from happening”

Where does the myth come from?

Family history of breast cancer is one of the known risk factors for breast cancer. People often believe that most women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. However, about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene defects (called mutations) passed on from a parent.

The reality behind the myth

Every woman is at some risk for breast cancer, but the degree of risk for individual women ranges from very low to very high. The risk for developing breast cancer increases with higher numbers of affected first-degree relatives, compared with women who have no affected relatives. Therefore, while it is true that women with a family history of breast cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease, most of these women will never get breast cancer. However, roughly 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors, meaning that the disease occurs largely by chance and according to as-yet-unexplained factors.

“Fertility treatments increase the risk of breast cancer”

Where does the myth come from?

Fertility treatments that stimulate the ovaries may also lead to an increase of the amount of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone to higher levels than is normally found in the body. Since these hormones have been linked to breast cancer risk, such approaches to fertility have been suspected to result in an increased risk of breast cancer.

The reality behind the myth

Currently, no strong evidence connects fertility treatments with an increased risk for breast cancer. On the other hand, more research is necessary in order to actually eliminate this concern altogether, and no large, long-term, randomized studies that do so have been published yet.


Other sources include and National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc..

Login to your account

Did you forget your password?