TAMPA (BLOOM) – Breast cancer is a significant public health issue in the United States, affecting millions of women of all races and ethnicities. According to recent data, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women after skin cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, after lung cancer. In this context, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a group that issues influential guidelines on preventive health, has recommended that women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who are at average risk for breast cancer should start getting regular mammograms at age 40.

This recommendation is a departure from the task force’s 2009 guidelines, which raised the age for starting routine mammograms to 50 from 40, citing concerns about the potential harms of early screening. However, recent trends in breast cancer, including an increase in the number of cancers diagnosed in women under 50 and a failure to narrow the survival gap for younger Black women, have prompted the task force to revise its guidelines.

Breast cancer, damaged cells, Female breast anatomy, 3d illustration

While the American Cancer Society differs from the task force’s recommendation, Karen E. Knudsen, chief executive officer of the cancer society, has expressed support for the task force’s advice to begin routine screening at a younger age, noting that it will alleviate confusion resulting from contradictory recommendations from medical groups.

The task force’s new recommendation applies to all people assigned female at birth who are asymptomatic and at average risk for breast cancer, including those with dense breast tissue and a family history of breast cancer. The advice does not apply to anyone who already has had breast cancer, carries genetic mutations that increase their risk, has had breast lesions identified in previous biopsies, or has had high-dose radiation to the chest, which raises the risk of cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new recommendation for women to begin regular mammograms at age 40 represents an important step forward in breast cancer prevention and detection. While further research is needed to fully understand the trends in breast cancer diagnoses among women under 50, this recommendation has the potential to save many lives by enabling earlier detection and treatment of this deadly disease.