190122 breast cancer awareness
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Women should undergo breast cancer screening every other year starting at age 40, a panel of US experts said, 10 years earlier than the group previously recommended.

Breast cancer is among the most common and deadly cancers for women in the US. Prior guidance from the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of primary care experts, advised women to get biennial screenings for breast cancer by age 50. The old guidance suggested women in their 40s, especially those with a family history of breast cancer, discuss screening with their doctors on a case-by-case basis.

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Breast cancer rates are rising among women in their 40s, with new diagnoses increasing about 2% per year on average from 2015 to 2019, according to the National Cancer Institute. Earlier screening, usually with mammography, is hoped to spot cancers in their most treatable stages, before they've spread widely in the body. Some doctors suggested that the expert panel's recommendations should be even more aggressive.

"It is disappointing that the task force is only suggesting biennial screening," Sarah Friedewald, a breast imaging expert at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement. Other expert groups, such as the American College of Radiology, also recommend that most women get screened more frequently than every other year.

The radiology group's guidelines call for all women to have a risk assessment by age 25 to determine if screening before age 40 is needed. The group published new guidelines for high-risk women earlier this month.

Studies point to benefits of earlier screening particularly for Black women and other minority women, Debra Monticciolo, head of breast imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. From 2016 to 2020, the breast cancer death rate was 40% higher among Black women than White women, according to a report from the American Cancer Society.

While screening rates are similar in the two groups, Black women are more likely to be screened at non-accredited facilities and tend to experience longer intervals between mammograms and follow-up appointments, according to the ACS.

The draft guidance will become official after a period of public comment that ends in June.