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US task force shifts breast cancer screening recommendations to start at age 40

Breast Cancer Menopause Hormones
Posted at 5:46 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 18:06:00-04

(WXYZ) — Breast cancer screening guidelines have drastically changed.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force shifted the recommended age for regular mammograms from 50. They've revised their guidance and are recommending screening begins at age 40.

This is great news that the task force recognizes the benefits of screening younger women. They are now recommending regular mammograms every two years for women between the ages of 40 and 74.

However, this new guidance is specifically for those at average risk.

It is not for women considered high-risk like those who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, women who've had high-dose radiation therapy to the chest at a young age or have had high-risk breast lesions on previous biopsies.

The decision to update the guidance stems from concerning trends in breast cancer rates among women in their 40s. Since 2015, rates have steadily increased by 2% annually.

Also, Black women face a higher cancer death rate than white women: they're 40% more likely to die from the disease. So, early screenings can help save more lives.

Evidence shows that mammograms effectively detect abnormalities such as lumps, tumors or calcifications in breast tissue, which may indicate the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells.

Why not screen every year? And what about women 75 and older?

There are health groups that feel that the U.S. preventive services task force guidance isn't quite hitting the mark.

Take the American Cancer Society, for example. They recommend yearly mammograms for women aged 45 to 54, with the option to switch to every two years at age 55.

They do not specify an age to stop screenings as long as the woman is expected to live for at least another decade.

Now, according to the task force's analysis, yearly mammograms can lead to more false alarms. This could mean some women end up having biopsies they didn't really need or getting treatment for lesions that aren't really a threat to their health. It could also cause unnecessary psychological stress.

In addition, evidence suggests that when comparing yearly screenings to every two years, there wasn't an increase in later-stage breast cancer diagnosis.

As for women aged 75 and older, the task force noted that there is not enough evidence to assess the benefits and harms of screening in this age group. And they would like more research before making an informed recommendation.

For women, it's important to know that roughly 1 in 8 will develop breast cancer, so please don't procrastinate or avoid mammograms. Getting screened is the best tool to detect this disease, which claims nearly 43,000 women's lives annually.