LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A new study calls into question a standard screening age for breast cancer. Researchers looked at mortality rates to determine when a woman should get a mammogram based on their race and ethnicity.
Most breast cancer specialists agree women should start getting screening mammograms at age 40, but the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends twice yearly screening for women with average risk starting at age 50.
Now, a new JAMA Network: Open study suggests one size does not fit all.
"In the African American population we really shouldn't be sticking to that 50. We really should be starting earlier," said Dr. Janie Grumley, director of the Margie Peterson Breast Program at Providence St. John's Health Center. She said researchers set out to find the optimal time for women to start mammograms based on race.
Grumley said researchers looked at the data of more than 400,000 women who died from breast cancer in the last decade. Scientists calculated mortality risk based on current racial and ethnic disparities.
They found the most favorable time to screen is when a woman reaches her risk threshold. For Black women that's at age 42. White females at age 51 years old. Native American and Hispanic women at age 57 and Asian or Pacific Islanders: age 61. Study authors suggest clinicians should take a risk-adapted approach when counseling patients.
"It's really important that when women hear this study is to kind of talk to their physicians so that they can come up with a really good, unique, personalized screening plan for themselves," she said.
But genetic predisposition and environment also play important roles in assessing risk and that's why starting at age 40 is an important guideline.
"Even if you have no family history, it doesn't mean you can't get breast cancer. If you want to be on the safe side, start mammograms at age 40 and annually. That would probably be the safest thing to do," Grumley said.
Researchers hope increasing awareness about the importance for Black women to start screening early will dramatically improve death rates from breast cancer.