New Research Suggests Annual Breast Cancer Screening Beginning at 40 Saves More Lives

New Research Suggests Annual Breast Cancer Screening Beginning at 40 Saves More Lives

Mammogram recommendations aren’t standard, with some health care organizations and agencies recommending they begin at age 40 and, others, age 50. There’s also disagreement on whether this should be an annual event, or every other year. More research is pushing toward beginning a bit earlier, with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently changing its guidelines from starting biennial screenings at 50 to starting at 40. With this inconsistency, a new study aimed to determine which timeframe would be the most beneficial.

Research recently published in the journal Radiology looked at the benefits and harms of four different screening scenarios: annual screening from ages 40 to 74, annual screening from 40 to 79, every other year from 40 to 74, and every other year from 50 to 74.

Using 2023 data on median estimates of screening outcomes from the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET), the researchers found that annual screening from 40 to 79 prevented the most deaths, with a mortality reduction of 41.7%, while every other year beginning at 40 had a reduction of 30%. Annual screening from ages 40 to 79 was also found to have the lowest risk of false positives, at 6.5 %, though all four had a rate below 10%. Benign biopsies were also low across the board, ranging from 0.88% to 1.32%, but again, annual screening from 40 to 79 was the lowest.

The researchers say this suggests longer-term annual screenings may be the most beneficial.

Dr. Debra Monticciolo, lead researcher and professor of radiology at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, explains, “The biggest takeaway point of our study is that annual screening beginning at 40 and continuing to at least age 79 gives the highest mortality reduction, the most cancer deaths averted, and the most years of life gained. There’s a huge benefit to screening annually until at least 79 and even more benefit if women are screened past 79.”

She adds, “This paper is important because it shows once again that there’s a tremendous increase in mortality benefit by screening annually between the ages of 40-79, and that the chances of experiencing harm are low on a per-exam basis. It comes down to valuing women’s lives. I am hoping that primary care physicians see that risks of screening are manageable, and the benefits are tremendous. We need to do this for women.”

Though health care agencies, including those in other countries, may recommend less frequent mammograms, when it’s time to schedule one, it’s a good idea to do so. Regular screening is more apt to catch cancer earlier, leading to better treatment prospects and often, a lower risk of dying from the disease.

Women who are at an increased risk of breast cancer should also talk to their doctors about their own mammogram plans, which may differ from those of women at an average risk.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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