Mammograms should start by age 40, task force says

LIMA — Women should start receiving mammograms at age 40, according to newly revised guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Task Force.

The task force updated its breast cancer screening recommendations in April, lowering the age women should begin receiving mammograms from age 50 to age 40.

The change reflects research which found a 42% reduction in mortality for women who started breast cancer screening at age 40, said Dr. Darlene Weyer, director of the Lima Memorial Women’s Health Center.

That’s because cancers are easier to treat when detected early, and because cancers found in younger women tend to be more aggressive, Weyer said.

“The longer we wait, the bigger (cancers) get, and then the treatment is much more significant or severe and the prognosis decreases,” Weyer said, adding: “We don’t want to wait until age 50 to start screening.”

Weyer uses three-dimensional imaging to capture dozens of images of each breast, rather than just two, so she can see between each layer of breast tissue to identify abnormalities early. She then uses an automated breast ultrasound, or ABUS, to identify additional cancers in women with dense breast tissue.

While the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommendations still suggest women undergo biennial breast cancer screening, or having mammograms every two years, starting at age 40, Weyer and professional organizations like the American College of Radiology recommend screening for breast cancer each year so cancers can be detected early when they’re most treatable.

The task force’s recommendation relies on a definition of harm that says call-back appointments and breast biopsies may cause anxiety and emotional upset for what may turn out to be benign tumors, Weyer said.

“The risk of missing a cancer far outweighs the harm (of being anxious),” she said.

Women with a history of breast cancer in the family, defined as a mother or sister, should begin regular screening for the cancer 10 years before the age their relative was diagnosed with the disease because of their increased risk of developing cancer, Weyer said.

Women who started their period early, who started menopause late, who had their first child after age 30 or who have not had children are also more likely to develop breast cancer, she said.