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Mammograms should start at age 40, U.S. panel recommends

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A new breast cancer screening recommendation says women should start getting mammograms at age 40. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: For years, there's been some confusion about when to initiate breast cancer screening. The leading group of obstetricians and gynecologists has long advised women to start at age 40. But that conflicted with the advice from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to start by age 50. Now there's a growing consensus that 40 is the time to start. Here's Dr. Carol Mangione of UCLA, who is coauthor of the new recommendation.

CAROL MANGIONE: New and more inclusive science has allowed us to expand our prior recommendation and encourage all women to get screenings starting at the age of 40 every other year.

AUBREY: Mangione says in recent years, there's been a steady uptick in breast cancer among women in their 40s. So rather than telling women in their 40s to consider a mammogram, going forward, the message will be more clear.

MANGIONE: We want to come out with a strong message that all women should really start screening at 40.

AUBREY: The new recommendation applies to people at average risk of developing breast cancer, which is still the second leading cause of cancer death among women. About 42,000 women and 500 men die from breast cancer each year. And Black women who get breast cancer are 40% more likely to die from the disease. Dr. Yolanda Tammaro, a breast surgeon at Hackensack Meridian Health, says early detection can help save lives.

YOLANDA TAMMARO: We know that when we can detect breast cancer at its earliest stages, we have our highest rates of cure. So I think this is certainly a step in the right direction.

AUBREY: It's estimated that if all women followed the screening recommendations, it could prevent about 8,000 deaths a year. Dr. Tammaro says she recommends annual mammograms, which is in line with the American College of Radiology recommendation. But Dr. Mangione says after careful review, weighing benefits and risks, the task force came to a different conclusion.

MANGIONE: We found that every other year was the optimal strategy.

AUBREY: The draft recommendation is open for public comment until June 5. At that point, the task force will consider all comments as it makes its final recommendation.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.