Catching breast cancer early can help tackle the disease when it’s more treatable, and mammograms can be key in ensuring an earlier diagnosis. The recommendations for when to begin receiving regular mammograms differ, however. Now, an organization that had long recommended starting at age 50 has said this age should be lowered.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, has issued a draft recommendation saying women at an average risk of breast cancer should begin regular screening at age 40. The organization’s prior recommendation had said women in their 40s could make the individual choice to start screening earlier, but biennial mammograms should begin at age 50 for women of average risk.
In a news release on the draft recommendation, USPSTF immediate past chair Dr. Carol Mangione said, “New and more inclusive science about breast cancer in people younger than 50 has enabled us to expand our prior recommendation and encourage all women to get screened every other year starting at age 40. This new recommendation will help save lives and prevent more women from dying due to breast cancer.”
Along with the age change, the organization says it’s also urgently calling for more research on whether it would be beneficial for women with dense breasts to have additional screening with breast ultrasound or MRI. Dense breasts are a risk factor for breast cancer and make mammograms more difficult to read. The task force is also urging more research on the benefits and harms of screening and treating women older than 75, which they say is an understudied topic.
The draft recommendation comes as studies have shown Black women are at an increased risk of breast cancer mortality at a younger age and that considering race within breast cancer screening guidelines may be beneficial.
In the news release, USPSTF vice chair Dr. Wanda Nicholson said, “Ensuring Black women start screening at age 40 is an important first step, yet it is not enough to improve the health inequities we face related to breast cancer. In our draft recommendation, we underscore the importance of equitable followup after screening and timely and effective treatment of breast cancer and are urgently calling for more research on how to improve the health of Black women.”
The organization says research should also focus on how to address breast cancer disparities faced by Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Alaska Native women. Among those disparities are a higher mortality rate among black women and a higher rate of mastectomy versus lumpectomy in Native American and Alaska Native women with early stage breast cancer.
The task force encourages public comment on the draft recommendation. For more information on submitting comments, click here. You can share your input through June 5.