Breast cancer is responsible for one in three (30%) female cancer diagnoses, making it the second most common cancer among women (after skin cancer) — and the most prevalent female-specific cancer — in the United States. It also ranks as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American women (following lung cancer).
But it’s not all bad news. You can reduce your chances of developing advanced breast cancer. How? By having clinical breast exams and screening mammograms — the key to early breast cancer detection and prompt, life-saving treatment — as recommended.
This October, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our expert team of women’s wellness specialists at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology in Amarillo, Texas, is here to help you make sense of the updated breast cancer screening guidelines. Here’s what you should know.
The average American woman has a one in eight chance (13%) of developing breast cancer at some point in life. While it’s disconcerting to know that breast cancer remains the second deadliest cancer for U.S. women, we’ve got good news: The breast cancer mortality rate has steadily declined since 1989, with an overall decrease of 43% through 2020.
While increased awareness and improved treatment techniques have certainly contributed to this hopeful advance in women’s health outcomes, the main driver of declining breast cancer mortality is mammography, an invaluable preventive tool that uses special X-ray imaging tests to detect breast cancer cells early.
It’s easy to see why breast cancer screenings are a critical part of women’s preventive health care. Having regular screening mammograms is the only way to catch breast cancer before it’s advanced, harder to treat, or has the chance to spread (metastasize).
Before we discuss the updated breast cancer screening guidelines put forth by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in 2023, it’s helpful to understand previous USPSTF guidelines, which had been in place since 2009.
Earlier USPSTF guidance was based on who breast cancer affects most often: middle-aged and older women. The median age of women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis is 62, and the disease affects few women younger than 45 years of age.
Previously, the USPSTF recommended that women of average breast cancer risk should:
Previous USPSTF guidelines also advised women of average breast cancer risk between the ages of 40-49 to consider biennial mammograms if so desired, but only after discussing the benefits and risks of earlier screening with their primary health care provider.
In early 2023, the USPSTF revised its stance on screening mammogram timing to place its guidelines in better alignment with those of six other independent panels and organizations that make breast cancer screening recommendations, including the American Cancer Society.
New USPSTF guidelines state that women of average breast cancer risk should now:
The key change is the recommendation to begin regular screening mammograms a decade earlier, at the age of 40, than previous guideline suggestions of starting at 50 years old.
We also think it’s worth pointing out that the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer haven’t changed. Knowing these recommendations may help inform your own decision-making process as you decide when it’s best to schedule your first (or next) screening mammogram:
The main difference between these two guidelines is that the USPSTF still recommends biennial breast cancer screenings, or having mammograms every other year, while the American Cancer Society advises women to have annual mammograms until the age of 55, when biennial screenings can begin in the absence of previous abnormal results.
When invasive breast cancer is caught early and treated before it spreads, it carries a five-year survival rate of 99%. While various factors influence an individual’s specific treatment outlook, one fact remains: The sooner you catch breast cancer, the better.
Simply put, screening mammograms are an essential part of women’s preventive care. If you have any confusion about the updated USPSTF mammography guidelines — or how they differ from other breast cancer screening recommendations — we can help.
To find out if you’re due for a screening mammogram, schedule a visit at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology by calling our office at 806-359-5468 today.