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Women should start breast cancer screening at 40, task force recommendation

Women should begin breast cancer screenings at age 40
Women should begin breast cancer screenings at age 40 02:32

MIAMI - There's been a lot of debate about when to start getting mammograms and how often. Now the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is proposing a change to breast cancer screening recommendations, which it says could save nearly 20% more lives.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force controversially advised against routine mammograms for women in their 40s and encouraged them to make an individual decision. Now the task force is recommending women at average risk for breast cancer get mammograms every other year starting at age 40 in light of new science.

According to the Radiological Society of North America, the rate of metastatic breast cancer among women between 25 to 39 is up 32 percent since 2009. 

"The issue here is to balance the need for early detection with the problem of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, " says Dr. Jules Cohen, a medical oncologist at Stony Brook Cancer Center.

He and many other doctors think women should have annual mammograms starting at 40.

"We think we can hopefully split that difference by doing some sort of risk stratification so that we don't over treat just because we find something early," said Cohen.

The American Cancer Society recommends beginnings screenings every year but at age 45.

While there's a lot of information and things can get confusing, doctors say women need to be proactive

Nancy Brinker, the founder of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation, said lowering the age for initial screenings to 40 is critical.

"Screening is an issue that has gone back and forth in medical circles and health care circles. At the end of the day, we know a woman is screened on a regular basis at a certain age, and particularly women who might have at-risk factors such as their background or genetic factors, we know that over time it saves lives," said Brinker.

She said in a perfect world people who are at risk should screened every year but she's hopeful lowering that age to 40 will help save lives

These new recommendations are not for women at high risk for breast cancer.

Breast cancer accounts for more than 43,000 deaths every year and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, Black women are much more likely to die of breast cancer and get cancers at younger ages.

The Task Force is calling for more research to try to understand this significant health disparity.

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