In a major change from its longstanding advice, an influential medical panel now recommends that women start mammography screening for breast cancer at age 40, which may especially benefit Black women.
In the United States, breast cancer is the second most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death. Last year, an estimated 43,250 women died of breast cancer.
The new guidance, from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, says women at average risk of breast cancer should start having mammograms, every other year, when they turn 40. For years, the recommendation had been to start at age 50 — though women in their 40s were advised to talk with their doctor and choose what was best for them.
The change, published as a draft recommendation on May 9, brings the task force guidance more in line with what other medical groups advise.
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Those groups — including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — have long recommended that all average-risk women start mammography screening in their 40s.
Given that, many U.S. women are already getting screened, or at least thinking about it, once they turn 40, says Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer at the cancer society.
But he also saw the new recommendation as good news.
“I hope this eliminates any confusion among the primary care doctors who advise women on screening,” Dahut adds.
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Why the change?
The USPSTF is an independent panel of medical experts, funded by the government, that analyzes the research evidence on various preventive medical services — like cancer screenings — and makes recommendations on who should have them, and how often.
It also periodically updates those recommendations to consider the latest research. The panel last updated its breast cancer screening recommendations in 2016.
Dr. John Wong, a task force member, explains what drove the change in starting age. For one, he says, breast cancer rates are