The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women begin breast cancer screening at age 50. However, the group notes that women have the choice to begin getting mammograms earlier, starting at 40.
The USPSTF is a group of independent medical experts who make recommendations about clinical preventive services, such as screening tests.
Now researchers involved in a large new study are proposing that health policymakers and clinicians consider screening Black women for breast cancer earlier than other racial and ethnic groups, starting at age 42.
This strategy, the researchers said, could reduce the breast cancer mortality gap that exists between Black and white women.
“The current one-size-fits-all policy to screen the entire female population from a certain age may be neither fair and equitable nor optimal,” the researchers wrote in the study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open last week.
Although Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at similar rates as other ethnicities, they have dramatically higher mortality rates. Compared with white women, Black women have a 4% lower incidence rate of breast cancer but a 40% higher risk of dying from the disease.
The significant breast cancer mortality disparity between the two groups has remained stable since 2011 after widening over the past three decades, according to the researchers.
The study looked at a total of 415,277 female breast cancer deaths in the U.S. from 2011 to 2020. The dataset included age, race and ethnicity categories.
The researchers then estimated the 10-year cumulative risk of dying from breast cancer in the general population after reaching age 50 — the time the USPSTF recommends that women begin biennial mammograms.
Based on the data, the study authors concluded that Black women reach this risk level at 42, roughly eight years before white women, and they propose that it would make sense to screen them earlier, says Dr. Mahdi Fallah, one of the authors of the study and leader of the Risk-Adapted Cancer Prevention Group at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany.