The American Cancer Society says that 25 percent of women who die from breast cancer were diagnosed in their 40s. Yet, in an unexpected and unfortunate move, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) last week finalized its draft breast cancer screening guidelines rising the age women should begin regular screening from 40 to 50. They did this despite the fact that Congress recently passed legislation that prevents these recommendations from being implemented.
The release of these guidelines does a disservice to women everywhere. Many women are unaware that Congress intervened to preserve women’s access to annual mammograms free of charge. However, with national news coverage of the finalized task force guidelines, many women will likely hear that the USPSTF raise the screening age and believe they have to wait until 50 to get their first mammogram. In 2009, when this same task force attempted and failed to execute these same misguided recommendations, we saw a disturbing increase in women delaying their mammograms. Raising the age to begin screening from 40 to 50 is simply dangerous.
We know that lives are saved when breast cancer is detected and treated earlier. In fact, the most rigorous scientific studies have always shown a decline in breast cancer deaths from screening women at age 40. Plus, 50 is not a magic number; none of the parameters of screening change suddenly at the age of 50 or any other age and there is no scientific or biological reason to delay screening until 50.
The truth is, if women who are currently in their thirties were to wait until 50 to be screened every two years, it is estimated that as many as 100,000 women would lose their lives to breast cancer, according to National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Network computer models. These are lives that could have been saved through early detection beginning at age 40. All women are at risk by delaying the onset of screening, but certain populations, including the African American and Hispanic communities, are particularly affected. Black women get cancer on average five to seven years earlier than white women and have a 42 percent higher mortality rate. Black women also tend to get more aggressive, faster growing breast cancer and tend to have cancers detected later. What’s more, the USPSTF recommendations dismissed new screening technology like 3D mammography, which has been shown to detect more invasive cancers, especially in women who have dense breasts, as many black women do.
If the recommendations had not been stopped, this population would have been at an even greater risk of missed cancers and higher mortality rates. Congress’ intervention resulted in a necessary “time-out” before these misguided recommendations can be implemented. Thanks to this legislative action, all women can continue to get their annual mammogram free of charge for the next two years, while the medical community addresses the numerous concerns about the recommendations. As someone who cares for patients whose lives are saved by early detection every single day, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that women continue to screen early and often with the best technology. If we can’t find it, we can’t treat it, and I believe every woman, regardless of financial status or demographic should have a fair shot at catching cancer in its earliest stage.
By offering 3D mammography at PINK Breast Center, women can expect more detailed and more accurate mammography results. We have two 2 NJ Women’s Imaging Centers at your convenience: Call PINK to schedule your appointment in Paterson at: (973) 977-6662 or in Flemington at: (908)-284-2300.