Intensive radiologic surveillance: a focus on the psychological issues

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Although women who carry BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have up to an 85% lifetime risk of breast cancer, the majority choose to forego prophylactic mastectomy, which has been proven to markedly lower breast cancer mortality, and opt for lifelong intensive surveillance. Whether surveillance lowers breast cancer mortality in these women is unknown. However, in a formal survey of 34 of these women, 82% indicated a strong belief in the ability of surveillance to find breast cancer at a stage when it is still curable. Since 1997 we have been conducting a study to compare the sensitivity of breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, mammography and clinical breast examination (CBE) in women at high risk for hereditary breast cancer. Breast cancer incidence rates have been even higher than predicted for this population. The addition of MRI and ultrasound to conventional surveillance with mammography and CBE significantly improves sensitivity, but at the expense of decreased specificity. Two years ago we began a formal study of distress and breast cancer anxiety. A sample of 25 new and ongoing participants in the surveillance study have completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale together with the Breast Cancer Worry Scale, up to six times per year over a 2-year period. To date there has been no evidence of any impact of intensive surveillance, including false-positive studies, on anxiety, depression or breast cancer worry.

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