(The Hill) — The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) on Tuesday released new guidance advising that women begin receiving annual breast cancer screenings at age 40, 10 years earlier than its previous recommendation, citing updated research.
“All women are now encouraged to get screened for breast cancer every other year starting at age 40, thanks to new and more inclusive science about breast cancer in people younger than 50 that has enabled the Task Force to expand its prior recommendation,” the USPSTF said in a statement.
The independent volunteer panel of physicians’ recommendation was Grade B, meaning the task force believes with high certainty this guidance has a “moderate to substantial” net benefit. This guidance is an update on the USPSTF’s final recommendation in 2016 that advised women to make individual decisions in their 40’s on when to start getting screened.
The recommendation applies to all women and individuals assigned female at birth who have an average risk of breast cancer, which includes those who have a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors such as dense breasts.
It’s a step but not the exact move local health leaders want to see.
Doctors said this is something they’ve been telling their patients for years.
In fact, they prefer yearly checkups.
“We’re worried about that because we know that even skipping one year if a patient has an aggressive cancer, cancer doesn’t go away,” Dr. Amy Patel, breast radiologist medical director at Breast Care Center at Liberty Hospital said. “They’re going to continue to progress and that can lead to more invasive treatment.”
“The evidence supports this,” Dr. Linda Harrison, radiologist with Diagnostic Imaging Center said. “The evidence is we save the most lives from breast cancer if we start screening at the age of 40 and if we start screening every year.”
One of the main concerns about this recommendation is insurance and how it can impact how often a patient gets screened.
“Often private payers and other payers follow suit, so that’s why what they say weighs so heavily when it comes to patient care and access particularly lifesaving screening examinations,” Patel said.
Patel said women can get checked at 25-years-old to see if they are at a high risk of developing breast cancer, but that’s not information they’re always told.
Patel also said this recommendation is a draft, so people can make public comments until June.
This guidance does not apply to individuals who have a personal history of breast cancer, are at very high risk due to certain genetic markers, have a history of high-dose radiation therapy to their chest at a young age or have had high-risk lesion on previous biopsies.
“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,” former USPSTF chair Carol Mangione said in a statement.
In its announcement, the panel noted that Black women often get deadly cancers at younger ages and are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
“Timely and effective treatment for breast cancer has the potential to save more lives for people experiencing disparities related to racism, lack of access to care in rural communities, low income, and other factors,” the organization stated.