Major Task Force Officially Recommends Women Begin Getting Mammograms at 40

A major task force’s draft recommendation on when to begin receiving mammograms is now final.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has officially shifted its recommended age to begin breast cancer screenings, from age 50 to age 40. Prior to this, the USPSTF had advised women in their 40s to consider their personal risk and preferences on when to begin screening. The new guidance – which recommends biennial screenings until age 75 – applies to women with an average risk of developing breast cancer, those with family histories, and those with dense breasts. Recommendations may be different for patients with certain health histories and genetic profiles that make them even more likely to develop the disease.

Woman waits to receive mammogram
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / VALERII APETROAIEI

Dr. Wanda Nicholson, the Task Force’s chair, says, “More women in their 40s have been getting breast cancer, with rates increasing about 2 percent each year, so this recommendation will make a big difference for people across the country. By starting to screen all women at age 40, we can save nearly 20 percent more lives from breast cancer overall. This new approach has even greater potential benefit for Black women, who are much more likely to die of breast cancer.”

The USPSTF notes that Black women have a 40% higher risk of dying of the disease than white women. They’re also more apt to get aggressive forms of breast cancer younger and to die at younger ages. This is why the task force says more research is needed into how to address screening and treatment inequity, both due to systemic racism for Black patients and lack of access to care among other underserved groups that face a higher risk of breast cancer death.

The task force adds, too, that they believe more research is needed into the benefits and harms of regular screening in women 75 and older, as well as whether or not women with dense breasts would benefit from additional screening with an ultrasound or MRI. Dense breasts are a risk factor for the disease, and they also make mammograms more difficult to read.

Woman does breast self-check
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / SARAN

Dr. Nicholson says, “Women deserve to have the best science available to guide them on how to protect their health, and we’re asking the research community to prioritize studies that can show us how best to screen for breast cancer in women with dense breasts. In the meantime, women with dense breasts should talk with their clinician about options for follow-up testing so that they can get the care that’s right for them.”

The American Cancer Society has praised the move to recommend screening sooner. However, Dr. Karen Knudsen, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, voiced concerns about leaving out women 75 and older.

She explains, “Millions of women over age 75 are in very good health and are expected to live many more years during which their risk of breast cancer remains high. The ACS does not support stopping screening for anyone with a 10+ year life expectancy irrespective of age.”

You can read more about the new recommendation here.

Doctor discusses options with female patient
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / WUTZKOH
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