Updated May 9, 2023 - Health

Women should start getting mammograms at 40 not 50, major health panel says

Helen Darling of the San Antonio Silver Stars receives a screening mammogram at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital-Westover Hills on August 18, 2009 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. Photo: D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty

The recommended age for women to start getting mammograms every other year should be lowered from 50 to 40, according to draft health panel recommendations released Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that starting formal breast cancer screenings 10 years earlier could save 19% more lives.

  • The panel's recommendations — which are not final — apply to women, cisgender women and other people assigned female at birth, it said, who are at average risk of breast cancer.
  • Previous guidance has noted women in their 40s should make individual decisions on screening and based on their preferences and family history.

Context: Breast cancer is the second most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death for women in the U.S., the task force said in a news release.

  • Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, the task force said, noting more research is needed to understand the causes and "what can be done to eliminate this health disparity."

Many health care groups have already recommended women start getting mammograms in their 40s.

What they’re saying: “New and more inclusive science about breast cancer in people younger than 50 has enabled us to expand our prior recommendation and encourage all women to get screened every other year starting at age 40,” Task Force immediate past chair Carol Mangione said in the release.

  • “This new recommendation will help save lives and prevent more women from dying due to breast cancer," Mangione said.

Meanwhile, the FDA said in March that it was updating mammography guidelines to require mammogram providers to notify patients about breast density, which can make it harder to detect cancer.

  • The FDA rule is scheduled to take effect in September 2024.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act, most health plans are required to pay for an annual mammogram at no cost for women 40 and older.

What’s next: The task force is taking public comment on its draft recommendations through June 5 on its website.

  • The comments will be considered as the task force develops its final recommendations, the group said.
  • It also said more research is needed on how breast density should factor into additional screening guidance, including on ultrasound or MRI, as well as “the benefits and harms of screening in women older than 75.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information.

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