Panel Moves Up Breast Cancer Screening Age

Pleasant Spring weather and sunshine draw many people outdoors to enjoy their yards, local parks, trails or patios.  Spending time in nature, socializing, moving more, and soaking up some Vitamin D are all beneficial for overall health and well-being. Keeping up regular health screenings now that it’s easier to travel without the hazards of snow and ice is also vital to catch any problems early – and new guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend all women start routine breast cancer screenings at 40, instead of 50, as previously advised. 

According to a recent New York Times Health report, the recommendation applies to all cisgender women and other people assigned females at birth who are at average risk for breast cancer.  This group includes women with dense breast tissue and a family history of breast cancer.  Screenings are still advised to be done every two years. 

The recommendation does not apply to anyone who has already had breast cancer, has received high-dose radiation to the chest, has genetic mutations that increase breast cancer risk or had breast lesions identified in previous biopsies.  People with troubling symptoms that might indicate breast cancer should see their healthcare provider immediately and not wait for regular screenings. 

The updated panel recommendations follow as a result of a review of screening strategies and modelling studies, but not from new clinical trial data.  Experts also accounted for high death rates among Black women; those who were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s have twice the mortality rate of white women. 

Although regular mammograms save lives with early detection of breast cancer, the panel has taken potential harms into consideration and maintained the two-year screening interval to avoid unnecessary anxiety, testing, invasive procedures, exposure to radiation and overdiagnoses.  Panel research found two-year screenings as effective at detecting Stage 2 cancers and other dangerous tumours. 

The new recommendations could increase survival rates by nearly 20 percent.  Screenings every two years, starting at 40 and continuing until age 74, are anticipated to prevent 1.3 additional breast cancer deaths for every 1,000 women compared with screening beginning at 50.  The benefits for Black women could be even greater. 

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommends screening for women aged 50 to 74, every two to three years.  This guideline does not apply to women at increased risk of breast cancer including those with a personal or family history, carriers of gene mutations, those who have a first-degree relative with these gene mutations or women who have had chest radiation before the age of 30 or within the past eight years.