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New guidelines: If you’re 40, it’s time to start mammograms

New draft recommendations for breast cancer screening released Tuesday urge women to get mammograms every other year, starting at age 40.

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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations come as the number of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer is rising.

Women in their 40s or younger have been encouraged to ask their doctors about the need for a mammogram. The previous recommendation by the task force was for women to have yearly mammograms if they are older than 50.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women at average risk of developing breast cancer (1 in 8 odds) start regular annual screenings mammography at age 45 and move to screening every 2 years at age 55.

“New and more inclusive science about breast cancer in women younger than the age of 50 has allowed us to expand our prior recommendation,” said Carol Mangione, an internal medicine specialist at UCLA who served as previous Chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and is co-author of the new recommendation.

Mangione points to the rise in breast cancer among people in their forties. “There are a lot more women getting breast cancer, and that influences our recommendation,” she told NPR.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. According to the CDC, about 42,000 women and 500 men die from the disease each year.

“If all women followed our new recommendation, we could reduce mortality from breast cancer in the U.S. by about 20%,” saving about 8,000 lives a year, Mangione said. “That’s a big reduction in mortality from breast cancer.”

Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer, so the new recommendation is “incredibly important” to address this disparity, Mangione pointed out.

“Starting at 40 actually creates the most benefit for Black women in our country,” she told NPR.

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