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Breast cancer screenings now recommended at age 40, earlier for higher risk groups

A medical provider guides a patient through the mammogram process.
Gorodenkoff Productions OU/Gorodenkoff
A medical provider guides a patient through the mammogram process.

Breast cancer screenings are important, but guidelines around who should get them and when keep changing.

The recommended age to begin breast cancer screenings has recently changed from age 50 to 40 for those considered average risk.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force, which is an independent group of medical experts, updated the guidelines to reflect the rise in younger women being diagnosed with the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 9% of new breast cancer cases in the United States are occuring in women younger than 45 years old.

Dr. Stamatia Destounis, chair of the American College of Radiology's breast imaging commission, said the increase may depend on environmental factors, hormones, genetics, or just awareness.

“Women are more aware, and they're asking questions,” she said. “They're going to get the lump they feel checked out earlier, or they're aware of their family history.”

Destounis, who is also the managing partner at Elizabeth Wende Breast Care, a local breast clinic, said the change in age also acknowledges the importance of getting higher risk groups screened earlier—particularly women of color.

“Black women, other minorities may have more aggressive tumors at a younger age,” she said. “We know that if you compare them to white women, the incidence of breast cancer for Black women may be lower, but the mortality rate is so much higher.”

Destounis said patients should get screenings 10 years earlier than the recommended age if any nuclear family member had breast cancer, or if some genetic mutation is present in your family tree.

“You need to have a sit down at a young age with a genetic counselor or geneticists, someone that can understand the risk and explain it to you and make specific recommendations,” she advised.

Destounis said insurance coverage will adhere to the update.

Elizabeth Wende Breast Care will be offering free mammograms on Saturday, May 11.

Racquel Stephen is WXXI's health, equity and community reporter and producer. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.