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New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Advise Mammograms at Age 40

Contributor: Michelle Specht, MD
4 minute read

All women and people assigned female at birth should start getting regular screening mammograms at age 40, according to updated guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The new advice calls for an earlier recommended age for screening after evidence revealed an increase in breast cancer among patients in their 40s.

“We can improve survival and increase quality of life, when women are diagnosed with breast cancers at a smaller size and earlier stage.” Michelle Specht, MD, co-director, Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Evaluation Center at Mass General Cancer Center said in an interview with WCVB.

When should you start getting mammograms?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of medical experts that makes recommendations based on clinical evidence. Until recently, the Task Force recommended that patients start getting mammograms at age 50. Those between 40 and 50 were advised to talk to their doctors about their breast cancer risk and make individual decisions about when to start screening. In recent years, though, the rate of breast cancer has increased among patients in their 40s.

After reviewing the latest scientific evidence, the Task Force updated its guidelines. In April 2024, it published new breast cancer screening recommendations advising that women and people assigned female at birth get a mammogram every other year between ages 40 and 74.

The new Task Force recommendation applies to patients with an average risk of breast cancer. However, it does not include those who:

  • Have very high breast cancer risk either due to a strong family history of breast cancer or due to certain genetic markers (such as BRCA1 or BRCA2)

  • Had breast cancer or atypical lesions on previous breast biopsies

  • Previously received high-dose radiation therapy to the chest

Patients in those groups should talk to their doctor and undergo a breast cancer risk assessment about when and how often to undergo breast cancer screening.

Screening mammograms save lives

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in women and people assigned female at birth in the United States. Screening mammograms use X-rays to spot breast tumors early, before there are symptomatic. Finding cancer early increases the odds that it can be treated successfully.

Experts aren’t sure why breast cancer is becoming more common in younger patients. But breast cancer rates are increasing about 2% each year among women and people assigned female at birth in their 40s. According to the Task Force statement, starting mammograms at age 40 could save 20% more lives. The benefit could be even greater among Black women with breast cancer, since they are more likely than white patients to die from breast cancer.

Experts agree that for most women and people assigned female at birth, regular mammograms are the best way to find cancer early. In older patients, the benefit is less clear. The Task Force concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend screening mammograms in people over 75. But all patients, at any age, should ask their healthcare providers if they have questions about when and whether to get mammograms. The simple test could save your life.

Originally published on Mass General Cancer Center on May 6, 2024.


Co-Director, Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Evaluation Center at Mass General Cancer Center