Critics debate lowering mammogram screening age

Some critics are speaking out against the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's recommendation to lower the mammogram screening age to 40, KFF Health News reported May 30.

In 2009 and again in 2016, the task force raised the age to start routine mammography from 40 to 50 and urged women from 50 to 74 to get mammograms every two years. Women from 40 to 49 who were at high risk were encouraged to speak with their physician about the benefits and harms of screening earlier. However, the most recent draft guidance has lowered the age back to 40. The task force said it made the change due to evidence showing the lowered age would help prevent more deaths, but some physicians are skeptical of the data.

The panel cited a 2% annual increase between 2016 and 2019 in the number of women in their forties diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. However, expert opinion on the importance of that data varies, some calling it a minor change in data and others calling it a "sizable jump."

"The evidence isn't compelling to start everyone at 40," Jeffrey Tice, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, told KFF.

Advocates like Dr. Tice say universal screening could cause more harm with false-positive results, unnecessary biopsies, overtreatment and patient anxiety. They advocate for individualized care instead.

The drafted guidelines are open for public comment until June 5. Afterward, the task force will publish the final recommendations in JAMA.

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